4 ways small businesses can reward employees when budgets are tight

May 13, 2020

May is Small Business Month and CareerBuilder is highlighting the unique experience of small business talent acquisition. To read more, click here.

“Can I have a raise?” It’s a tough question for many well-meaning small business leaders. It’s not that you don’t want to grant your employees a raise — especially when they deserve it — it’s that you simply don’t have the budget right now. 

Especially now. Maybe you have team members taking on extra responsibilities to help meet pandemic-related needs, or your team is just scraping by due to economic realities. Your business leadership might also be cautious of spending anything extra at the moment, waiting for consistent, positive signs of an economic recovery.  

No matter your situation, it’s best to be honest. Employees will appreciate the trust and transparency, they’re likely to be more understanding of a valid reason, and will realize that you recognize their hard work. Schedule periodic check-ins to revisit the compensation conversation and stay accountable to your team. 

In the meantime, here are other perks you could offer to help fill the compensation gap, ease their expenses and show just how much you value them as a member of your team. (Plus, a few more tips that are more relevant to post-quarantine work life.) 

Flex hours for work-life balance 

Consider granting more flexibility in your star employee’s schedule. This could look like adjusted hours – starting later, shorter weekdays with some work on the weekends, or four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days. Think about how you can offer your employee more time with their family, or just some down time to relax and take it easy at home. 

Half-days or Summer Fridays 

Let your employees take a little bit of extra time off. Give them an extra four hours back in their schedule, or maybe the whole team has been working hard and deserves Fridays off June-September. Giving your employees time to recharge and rest is always a good idea, but it can be especially valuable now for workers to feel supported and know that their managers are empathetic to the times. 

Entertainment stipend 

Do you have a little bit of cash to spend, but not enough to make meaningful raises or bonuses? Consider how you could subsidize TV streaming, kids’ entertainment, crafts, puzzles – anything to help your employee decompress at the end of a long work day and still stuck in quarantine. This could also extend to online classes or one-off virtual workshops or seminars. 


You may not be able to offer a permanent salary bump, but a one-time bonus will provide a big boost to your employee’s bank account and their morale. Plus, it lets them know you’re serious about compensating them even more as soon as you can.  



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