Good employees are worth their weight in gold, but sometimes your bottom line simply won’t allow you to throw them riches at these hard workers in exchange for a job well done.

Now, no one’s suggesting that you implement a new program where 40-hour work weeks are rewarded with mere good wishes. Neither your employees nor the Department of Labor would look too kindly on that. However, there are ways to reward employees and demonstrate their value without using financial compensation (or at least not very much). We’ve turned to the experts to explore the hows and whys for keeping employees happy without breaking the bank.

Beyond the Paycheck
Employers may believe there’s no need to throw in company perks beyond a good salary, health benefits or a promotion when warranted. But true business professionals know that providing a healthy paycheck makes up only one small part of keeping workers happy.

“Everybody that works gets a paycheck, so people are looking for those extra little perks that make [one] company better over the other,” says Stephanie Troiano, recruiter and client-service administrator for The Hire Talent, a pre-employment testing organization in Brea, Calif.

She knows of companies that provide perks ranging from gym memberships to yoga classes. These extra services show that the company cares about what’s important to their employees and that they’re willing to go the extra mile beyond that paycheck, she says.

Such perks also can result in staff loyalty and a healthy company culture. “Employees today … know that the era of staying in one company for their entire career is long, long over,” says David Jacobson, founder of TrivWorks, an employee team-building company in Long Beach, Calif. “So long as companies do something which is purely for the benefit of their employees, to let them know that they value and care about their people, [it] goes a long, long way towards retaining talent and building a happy, productive workplace.”

Big-Budget Ideas
If you have the means, there are a myriad of large-scale perks that you can provide your employees.

Dennis Marunde, president of Crystal Lake, Ill.-based Arvidson Pools & Spas, rewards his workers in a number of ways. Employee perks include pairs of tickets to professional sporting events, an annual company canoe trip, and paintball outings (or, as an alternative, manicure days for those who don’t paintball). On the paintball outings, teams are divided by department, and at last year’s game the construction division was victorious, says Marunde.

“Service wanted a rematch, and retail was glad they came out in one piece,” he says.

Marunde notes that these perks help create a healthy company culture. He’s noticed that his employees are generally very kind and respectful toward each other and work together to solve problems when they arise. They also tend to be very forgiving when things go wrong.

Pool Scouts also strives to reward staffers for a job well done. At the corporate offices in Virginia Beach, Va., the organization threw an employee cookout in June of last year to kick off the season. They then ended the pool season in October with a company trip to Topgolf, a local sports entertainment complex.

The two events serve as “a celebration of the hard work that [our employees] put in,” says Michael Wagner, president of Pool Scouts. The example is set at the corporate level, and franchisees are encouraged to follow suit, he says.

Big Ideas, Little Budgets
While smaller operations may not be able to reward employees with tickets to professional sporting events, there are plenty of other small-budget ways to show appreciation.

One very popular option is offering free food. Employees at Armond Aquatech Pools in Bridgeport, Pa., are provided with coffee and donuts in the morning and pizza in the afternoon once a month if they go a month with no lost-time accidents, says Michael Ciarrochi, design consultant with Armond Aquatech. The free treats encourage safe behavior and keep safety on employees’ minds, he says.

A&G Concrete Pools in Fort Pierce, Fla., also provides breakfast for office employees every Friday, says Tracey McGhee, executive assistant. And when Arvidson employees have to take meetings during lunch or work late, they’re often treated to a free meal, Murande says.

You also can look at employee rewards as an opportunity to get creative and offer benefits that are specific to your particular group. Pool Scouts offers quarterly Lunch and Learn sessions, where an expert comes into the office during lunchtime to discuss topics of interest to the staff. Presenters have ranged from fitness experts to financial advisors. The company has even hosted a sommelier and a representative from a local brewery. Workers become educated about the worlds of wine and beer while imbibing samples. Pool Scouts taps into local connections to wrangle the experts and only occasionally pays nominal fees for their time … and, of course, they had to pay for the beer and wine samples, Wagner says.

Gift cards are another popular, somewhat low-budget way to show employees that they’re valued. Service techs at Pool Scouts receive a gift card if they get a positive “shout-out” from a client, Wagner says. The cards are from a mix of merchants, ranging from local restaurants to Armond Aquatech has drawings for $50 gift cards during those pizza parties.

Managers also can find a number of ways to reward employees that won’t cost you a dime.

One of the simplest strategies: Treat staffers to some extra time off. A&G Pools gives its office workers an “Early Out” every other Friday. Staffers only put in half days, which rotate between employees so there are always a sufficient number of people in the office at any given time. This allows them to make doctor’s appointments or run other errands without taking time off from work, McGhee says.

Employees with their eyes on a higher position can also be rewarded with a title change. A simple upgrade from manager to senior manager may prove valuable to employees who can use it to build their resumes as well as incentivize them and keep up morale, Troiano says. Alternatively, if an employee is performing well and wants to explore opportunities in another department, she or he can be rewarded by having a chance to branch out across the organization.

Added Bonus
Rewarding employees for a job well done can also foster an additional positive side effect — giving employees a reason to impress one another.

At Arvidson, the Employee of the Month is chosen not by upper management, but by peers. The process began several years ago when one staffer jokingly bestowed the award on his coworker after noticing that he had been doing particularly good work. Marunde liked the idea and established a tradition of charging the current Employee of the Month with selecting the next. He even kicked in a $50 award along with the title. “We love it,” says Marunde. “It works great to build up mutual appreciation and respect among coworkers.”

Pool Scouts runs a similar Employee of the Month system. The corporate office has a document called The Good Book, where team members can write down when and where they noticed a coworker doing a good job. They can also nominate any of their coworkers for the Employee of the Month title. In addition to awarding the honoree with a gift card and recognition at a monthly meeting, the company posts his or her photo in the the office.

“A peer-to-peer system allows us to recognize things that employees do when no one or not everyone is watching,” Wagner says. “I think people appreciate the recognition, and ... when it comes from their peers it makes the award even more special.”