In The Workplace

Andy, a fellow manager from another department says he doesn’t mind spending his own money to motivate his people. He pays 100% the cost of hosting a snack party for his team at least once a month. But not every manager can afford that. What do you think? — Blind Corner

The question is not about Andy’s ability to afford such treats. Is he getting his money’s worth? If he has reduced absenteeism and tardiness in his department, then that could be one measure of his success. But that should not be all. What is his department’s productivity?

How about efficiency, manifested through the timeliness of projects being completed, even ahead of time? What about camaraderie? These are inter-connected. You need to understand whether Andy is getting his money’s worth.

Understanding employee motivation is a major concern of all managers. Understanding motivation and why people do the things they do will help you determine how to respond to your staff.

If you don’t have money to spare for your team, you can always engage people via casual talks. First and foremost, be kind and courteous to them. Talking to your direct reports on an individual basis is the best option. Ask them about the difficulties of their job. Offer your assistance in solving problems. 

Then connect them all to what you know about their individual career goals. All this is in indispensable part of an engagement dialogue.

One option you may want to consider is for the organization to shoulder the cost of the monthly snack party. This is a long shot. However, with the help of human resources (HR) you can discover industry practices, if not those of other organizations, which result in high levels of productivity and low employee turnover.

If you’re serious, then assist HR in doing the research. That could serve as your template.

A growing number of companies, mostly foreign-affiliated ones, pay readily for food and beverages. They do it as often as weekly, even every day. Instead of an afternoon snack, they offer breakfast as an incentive for punctual workers.

With HR, you can make a strong case before management. Therefore, your first step in the process is to talk to HR and discover how this idea might be implemented. At the same time, prepare for a situation in which HR might seek to dissuade you from continuing with your idea because of cost.

At the core of an energized workforce is the quality of a manager’s professional relationships with their direct reports. This is best shown in the amount of trust and respect that workers give to their managers. Getting the best out of positive work relations is an element of the soft side of management. Let me give you some low-cost strategies:

One, spruce up the workplace. This could be done through 5S good housekeeping with the help of employees. It is a good option that you can pursue without a budget or even in the absence of a corporate-wide 5S program. It is easy to justify this as most people would like to work in a clean, orderly, and well-organized system.

Two, organize a morale-building celebration. You can make this happen with modest budgetary support from the organization. This is easy to do as long as you can find a good excuse to celebrate certain department milestones.

Three, manage by walking around. Do this on a regular, casual basis. Connect with people by visiting their work stations so they can feel free to speak up. When you do this, ensure that no one suspects you of “snoopervising.” Rather, connect with people with genuine interest in helping them deal with their work difficulties.

Four, give people the chance to shine. Ask them if they want to go on a challenging assignment. If they succeed, you have a good excuse to celebrate. Coach them along the way. Ensure that they achieve the mutually agreed objectives.

Five, empower people to decide small things. Encourage them to look for problems and solve them with inexpensive solutions. People at the bottom of the pyramid know many things that top management doesn’t know. If you’re successful in making this happen through some pilot projects, you can expand the practice within your department.

The above list is incomplete. There are many inexpensive strategies that you can turn to to energize people. It’s only a matter of understanding what motivates them.


Bring Rey Elbo’s leadership program called “Superior Subordinate Supervision” to your management team. Contact him on Facebook, LinkedIn, X, or e-mail or via