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Ask the Experts

What ‘Creative Perks’ Boost Morale?

By The Editors

Question: For a smaller firm without a huge budget, what kinds of “creative perks” could we offer employees to show appreciation, to help boost morale and motivation?


Lori Ann DeMayoLori Ann DeMayo: As a small firm, we are always looking for economical ways to show our appreciation of staff. Each year, we design a combination of monthly events that are both staff- and firm-driven — equally balanced to show a true sense of loyalty and camaraderie from both sides. Keeping it balanced helps eliminate what I call the “entitlement syndrome.” Events such as our “Bosses Day” appreciation luncheon, for example, are completely staff-driven. Each October, the employees bring in their best dish to honor our shareholders. Also, we recently held our annual tailgate party to kick off football season. We asked each staff member to wear their favorite team shirt and the firm supplied the wings, pork sliders and fries. We also have a football trivia contest, with a $25 gift card to the winner. This is an inexpensive and fun event.

Everyone looks forward to our end-of-year holiday party, which is usually a luncheon rather than a dinner and includes a raffle with great prizes. Many of the gifts come from our office supply company after we accrue purchase points all year long. We are able to give away gifts such as flat screen TVs and gift cards.

Other low-cost giveaways and morale-boosting options include time-off certificates. We like to randomly reward an employee for excellent client service with this type of reward. In the past, we have also done a “TGIF giveaway” — on any random Friday, we would give each staff member a gift card for $15 as our appreciation for working hard all week.

Our yearly event calendar also includes a “dip off” competition in January. This is a staff-driven event where employees bring in their best dip, to be taste-tested and judged by our shareholders. The “Best Dip” trophy is awarded to the winner. Other events include a movie ticket giveaway in June and an ice cream social in July.

In addition, once per month we celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries. We announce the names of the employees at a meeting and give them a celebratory certificate, which they can redeem for a $15 gift card or use toward PTO credit. Milestone anniversaries are celebrated with additional monetary and time-off compensation. For instance, a five-year anniversary will be celebrated and rewarded with a dozen roses, a spa gift card for $100 and one day off.

As a firm we believe that “you get what you give,” and we choose to invest in our people. The simplest gestures can serve to motivate as much as the most expensive item. If you stay consistent, you will see how productive and enthusiastic employees become because they feel appreciated and acknowledged.

Lori Ann DeMayo is Administrator at Rosenthal, Levy, Simon & Ryles, with oversight over all aspects of support staff supervision, the human resources department, and benefits and compensation programs. Additionally, Lori works closely with the firm’s attorneys on various business development and community outreach initiatives and she manages corporate purchasing.

Ceanne HerndonCeanne Herndon: The most successful perk we have offered our employees is the gift of time. I hear from staff and attorneys alike: “There aren’t enough hours in the day.” So for the past several years on staff appreciation day, we have issued “get out of the office free” cards worth two hours to be used at the employee’s discretion. In addition, before major holidays, we often have an unscheduled early close. These free time perks are extremely well received and do not increase costs.

Earlier this year, we had a picnic at a regional park. I did the food shopping and preparation beforehand, so by the time the office arrived at the park I had the tri-tip and chicken on the barbeque, accompanied by snacks and salads made from ingredients from the local farmers’ market. After lunch, many of the attorneys had to go back to the office, but the staff went hiking and kayaking, or simply relaxed on the picnic grounds. After they finished with their activities, they were free to go home, but many stayed until the end of the day. The expense was minimal — the picnic ground fee, parking and the food — roughly equivalent to taking everyone out to lunch at a restaurant and much more fun.

For the sixth straight year, we have been voted one of the “Best Places to Work” in our community. We were the first law firm to win the award and consistently score high in the employee survey. This year, we had a perfect score in the “pride” category, and one statement was particularly comforting: “I would like to be working at this organization one year from today.”

Ceanne Herndon has been Firm Administrator for 11-attorney O’Brien Watters & Davis, LLP, for the past 20 years. O’Brien Watters & Davis is a 33-year-old law firm in the Northern California city of Santa Rosa. The average tenure of the firm’s 12 non-attorney staff members is more than 14 years.

NadiaWagnerNadia Wagner: Numerous studies show, time and time again, that the most powerful motivator for employees is personalized, instant recognition from their managers. This form of recognition often supersedes other primary forms of reinforcement, including money. So one of the easiest ways of boosting morale is for managers and attorneys to personally and publicly congratulate an employee on a job well done. Doing so in the form of an email blast to the whole firm is doubly rewarding.

Other morale boosters include:

  • Hosting regular staff meetings and making staff feel like an integral part of the organization.
  • Giving credit to an employee for a great idea.
  • Establishing an “Employee of the Month” recognition or similar type of program.
  • Praising people immediately and often for their efforts.

I can also recommend these low-cost recognition ideas:

  • Host an unexpected rainy day (or other inclement weather) pizza lunch for everyone.
  • Purchase scratch-off lottery tickets and hand them out on the spot to employees who are performing exceptionally well on any given day.
  • Buy lunch for a hardworking employee and two or three co-workers of their choice.
  • Make a small contribution to the charity of the person’s choosing.
  • Give personal birthday cards and a small gift or candy on birthdays.
  • Offer a “free” hour off or half-day off as a show of appreciation.

It is important to note that basic, courteous human interaction is at the heart of any morale-boosting effort. Employees who feel appreciated will perform better. Small investments often produce big payoffs.

Nadia Wagner is Office Manager for the New York office of Beveridge & Diamond, PC, a national environmental firm. Nadia has been with Beveridge & Diamond since 1989 and in the legal industry for more than 25 years. She has served in numerous positions on the Board of Directors for the ALA’s New York City Chapter, including a term as President, and currently serves as adviser on the BPAC and Diversity & Inclusion Committees.

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Categories: Ask the Experts, Daily Dispatch, Law Firm Culture, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published November 5, 2014
Last updated October 28, 2020
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