While bonuses, paid holidays and other formal employee benefits are good for business, they are not a guarantee of employee or team performance. In fact, studies  have proved that “soft” benefits, such as employee incentive programs, are directly responsible for driving increased efficiencies and productivity among employees.
And while “employee-friendly” business practices have traditionally been perceived as frivolous or a distraction, when structured and managed effectively they not only boost morale, but produce motivated teams dedicated to the success of your business.
A formal employee incentive program, or even elements of it, needn’t break the bank. Here are five ways you can incentivize your employees.
1. Introduce flextime.
Allowing your employees to enjoy more flexible schedules is a great incentive for attracting and keeping high-performing employees. It doesn’t mean that they work less time; it just means they have the benefit of working the hours that you mutually agree on outside the traditional confines of a 9-to-5 work day. Flextime won’t work for all businesses or all employees. Here are some tips for balancing your business needs with those of your employees:
- Determine who is eligible for flextime: If you want to offer this benefit but are concerned about rolling it out to all employees, consider establishing eligibility based on performance or tenure.
- Set acceptable and universal guidelines: Start by consulting employees on their needs; then develop and communicate a set of guidelines that is realistic for all. For example, you might choose to offer your employees the option of starting or leaving work one or two hours early on certain weekdays. If you do so, make sure your employees can make up those hours during the rest of the week.
- Establish procedures: Ensure that your flextime policy includes a process for reviewing requests, scheduling and ensuring coverage.
- Monitor the program: Once your flextime program is under way, take time to adjust it and iron out any kinks. Assess whether performance has been affected or the program been abused.
2. Offer employees corporate memberships.
Whether it’s a discounted gym membership or access to an executive suite at your local sports arena, corporate membership programs can help promote employee well-being as well as help to facilitate business relationships when used as vehicles for client entertainment.
Before you rush into buying the membership that appeals to you, consult your managers or employees and try to gain consensus on their preferences. Again, you may want to offer these perks based on performance or tenure. Don’t forget, if you do use corporate memberships for any form of client entertainment, you can claim customer entertainment expenses (including meals) as a business tax deduction, as long as there is a clear business purpose and substantial business discussions are held before, during or after the entertainment. The tax deduction is generally limited to 50 percent of the expenses incurred. Read more about business tax deductions  at Business.gov.  Also talk to your accountant about other deductions you can gain by implementing employee incentives.
3. Look after those that matter to your employees.
Show your appreciation for your employees by involving their families in their work life and work-related social activities. From family movie nights to “bring your child (or pet) to work days,” these activities can go a long way to making good on your commitment to, and appreciation of, your employees and those who support them.
4. Spiff your team.
Just as sales teams get “spiffed” or compensated for closing a major deal, why not incentivize employees across all your business functions for completing critical projects or reaching certain goals? Incentives aligned with individual achievements or team-based success can go a long way to aligning and motivating your employees around your business objectives.
5. Show you take your employees’ wellness seriously.
For a small business, losing just one employee to frequent sick days or a prolonged illness can be frustrating and a drain on resources. Consider implementing a workplace wellness program. Not only will it help educate your team about all aspects of wellness (physical, mental and even fiscal), it will go a long way to showing you’re investing in them for the long term, and make for a more empowered and happier work force.
Workplace wellness programs don’t have to be all about posters, flyers and doctrine about how and how not to live your life. If you tie them to other incentives and perks – for example, extending the lunch hour once a week to allow employees to take a “30-minute power walk,” or offering prizes for quitting smoking – they can be inclusive and something to get excited about. You might even come up with a calendar that emphasizes a weekly wellness initiative, such as “greening” your work space one week or changing your snacking habits the next!
The CDC’s Healthier Worksite Initiative  offers more information, resources and step-by-step toolkits to help you improve the health and morale of your employees through workplace wellness programs.