Q&A: What can we do if we can’t provide raises and promotions?

Danny Speros, Director of People Ops, Zenefits
May 6, 2021

How do you keep employees engaged if your business can’t afford raises or promotions?  On this episode of POPS!, Zenefits VP of People Ops Danny Speros shares ideas for low-cost ways to show appreciation for employees in lieu of raises and explains how to motivate employees when a bigger paycheck isn’t an option. After you […]

How do you keep employees engaged if your business can’t afford raises or promotions? 

On this episode of POPS!, Zenefits VP of People Ops Danny Speros shares ideas for low-cost ways to show appreciation for employees in lieu of raises and explains how to motivate employees when a bigger paycheck isn’t an option.

After you listen:

HR Headaches Series: What Can I Do If We Can’t Afford Raises and Promotions?

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On this Q&A you’ll hear: 

  • [00:17-01:17 ] What you can offer employees in lieu of raises 
  • [01:17-02:05 ] Experiences that build camaraderie 
  • [02:07-03:49 ] The biggest motivator at work (besides money)

POPS Star Bio

Danny comes from a family of entrepreneurs and spent 8 years running the family construction business including HR, Sales, Operations and Accounting. He understands the joys and challenges of building a business and learned a lot about how to avoid some common pitfalls. This context fuels his passion for working with other small businesses at Zenefits. Today, Danny taps more than 20 years of People Ops and small business leadership in his role as VP of People Ops at Zenefits. This makes him a great guest expert for the podcast, so you’ll hear from him often.  And you might just catch an occasional cameo from his young daughter in the background.


Danny: What can we do if we can’t provide raises and promotions? 

Didi: Welcome to POPs, the show that shows you how to shift from human resources paperwork to people operations for the new world of work. How? By answering one question at a time.

Today, to help us answer your question. Here’s Danny Speros, VP of People Ops at Zenefits. 

Danny: There’s a lot of companies that may be dealing with this right now, whether it’d be from the pandemic or other business needs. They’re just not able to afford the kinds of raises and promotions that they’d like to be able to do for their employees.

Granted, people like to work for money, but that’s not all they necessarily worked for. And so there’s some other things that you can do to help keep your employees engaged and live up to your side of the bargain in terms of the employee experience. Even if you can’t do the types of raises or promotions, you’d like to, first of all, there’s a couple things around like just low dollar spend activities and events and things that you can do sending out swag to your employees or providing some company branded stuff.

It was always fun to get. Maybe perhaps you could do some discretionary or spot bonuses for great performance. Gift cards or sort of food credits and things like that are fun, or even a care package. I know at Zenefits here, we just sent out for Earth Day, just a small potted little plant, some seeds, some soil, some instructions, super cheap, super easy, but just fun for people to do.

Maybe in my case, my daughter and I went outside and did that day and it was fun. Neat thing that you can do is experiences that you might be able to do online or with a team or with the group to build some comradery. So whether it’s bringing in a guest speaker or doing a small event for your employees, if you’re able to get together in person or even doing an online event, there’s a lot of different ways that you can bring in somebody from the outside. Maybe an expert in their field or an entertainer in their own right can walk you and your employees through a fun get together after all those kinds of things, help to build bonding and comradery. And that’s one of the biggest reasons people stay in their jobs is that the people that they work with, the relationships that they have, the ability to connect with people is a big deal.

Beyond some of those things, the best motivators for people at work, once their money is settled, don’t get me wrong, people still like that. Some of the best motivators for people in their work is really just doing meaningful work. Do they feel connected to your company’s mission? Does the work that they’re doing matter in the grand scheme of things, or even at a small level for people that they can see?

So tying your employees, actual work and productivity and output to something that they can see and is tangible and connect with. It’s pretty cool. And then also making sure that your employees have maybe not full autonomy and depending on the situation, but certainly the autonomy to be able to make decisions in terms of how they do their work, how they can improve on their work and how they can just have fun with the work that they do, experimenting the ability to tinker and tweak what you do and make that better is.

Hey, big deal. In terms of employees engagement with the work that they do, whether it be just from how they work with the customer and the things that they can say, the things that they can try and maybe sharing some of those things that resonate and work with fellow employees, that kind of stuff can be fun.

And then the last thing is just people like it. If they’re able to invest in their future. So even if they can’t get the raise right now, if the work that they’re doing, if the things that they are learning, if the experience that they are gaining right now is something that’s going to help them get a raise in the future, aspire to a new position in the future, or really put them in a place where they’re going to achieve a new level in their career in the future and that sort of personal and professional growth. It pays dividends later, but it’s still something that’s valuable to a lot of people right now.

Didi: Do you have a question for our experts? Click the link in the show notes, or if you’ve got other ideas and feedback about our show, send them to [email protected]


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About The People Ops Podcast

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