Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: Motivation is key in a crisis and words can be the best reward

By now there are few people in the UK who have not, in some way, been affected by redundancies. For the majority, it is a case of having watched colleagues leave while those left have to pick up the pieces and carry on, often still feeling jittery about their own job security.

So it is not surprising that interest in motivating those left behind is rising rapidly in importance. Morale is at an all-time low in many organisations, with suspicion and insecurity ruling the day, hidden beneath a camouflage of productivity as workers do what they can to hold on to a regular pay cheque.

Managers are going to have to work harder than ever to counteract those natural performance inhibitors – stress and anxiety.

Our lead research news, Corporate faith in the power of incentives, released exclusively to Employee Benefits by Grass Roots, found that 61% of employers agree or strongly agree that, in times of economic uncertainty, there is a greater need to motivate staff with incentives.

So, perhaps counter-intuitively, employers should not be trying to wipe out bonus schemes and cut costs on the small perks around the workplace. Instead, it is now more important than ever for employers to recognise the work their staff are doing. Spending £10 on office treats after a busy day, perhaps a bit more on vouchers to say thank-you to staff, will more than justify the cost – even in tough times. As we point out in our cover story, the ultimate recognition rewards of “thank-you” and “well done” are all-powerful motivators if expressed sincerely.

Bonuses have become much more controversial in recent months, and practices are, rightly, being re-examined, from Hong Kong to Houston. But when pay freezes are rampant, well-structured bonus schemes reward staff who perform well despite the recession.

Heinz takes a particularly hard business attitude to awarding bonuses, which has paid dividends. It proves the point that flexible pay does work, and never more so than when profitability is at stake.