27 Cheap or Free Employee Retention Strategies You Must Try

There are plenty of great yet often expensive employee retention strategies to keep your best employees, however these only work if you have a high profit margin or a large HR budget.

However, many of us don’t have the luxury of spending a small fortune on some clever employee retention strategies – so we’ve created this list of 27 methods, that won’t break your bank.

The problem with great employees, is that without care and attention, you may end up losing them. Retaining employees is a strategy many companies use to save their knowledge, reduce replacement costs, and keep productivity and morale high.

Relaxed dress code

Whilst it is important to be dressed appropriately in front of customers and colleagues, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need all your employees in business dress every single day of the year.

One of our more unique employee retention strategies, is to encourage your team to have a relaxed dress day, or if they aren’t meeting with anyone, come in more casual outfits than they would normally wear.

Office showers

If you are considering moving offices, look for or build an employee shower area. This sounds like a strange employee retention strategy, however it encourages employees to travel by bicycle or running to work, and is a very cheap but effective all-round method to reward your employees.

As a result, they will feel healthier, happier and know that you care about them.

Comfortable relaxation zone

If you have a spare room or corner of an area, putting a few couches and coffee table, with a few books or board games is a very nice way to create a quiet, relaxation area. Employees like everyone, need the occasional quiet thinking time, away from their desks.

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This will provide a nice space, without the guilt of standing outside or shutting their eyes at their desks.

Employee social club

Something we do in our office is buy cans of soft drink, juices and other fridge treats, and ask employees to pay a certain amount for each drink. The money that our ‘staff fridge’ makes in profits gets tallied up, and then once every few months, we use that money to go partake in an employee-elected social activity.

The administration for such a program is normally very low, and gives the employees a great treat, which they have basically paid for, themselves.

Family picnic

Rather than just have a team function without partners, consider arranging a family lunch in a local park during the warmer months. The company could supply some of the food, or you could literally ask everyone to bring their own – the object of this activity is more about team bonding than anything else.

It is always great for your partner to meet your colleagues as well, and keeps conversations at home in context with the people they have met.

Employee discounts at related entities

One of my favourite employee retention strategies is giving your team benefits at their purse or wallet. If you have some customers or suppliers that have goods or services that your employees may appreciate, why not approach them and see if they will offer a special deal to your employees? This costs you nothing, yet rewards the people that work for you.

Birthday day off

Sure, this costs a day’s wages, however giving employees one day off per year, on their birthday, pays enormous benefits the rest of the year.

Listen to your team

Something often overlooked when considering employee retention strategies, is the habit of encouraging and listening to feedback from your team.

Clever organisations across the globe are finding that simply asking for feedback and genuinely listening to employees goes a long way towards both office morale and individual happiness.

Office games room

One of my favourite employee retention strategies is to have a space set aside for something fun. For example, here is a photo of our own ping pong table, which gets regular use in our office.

Office table tennis

Office table tennis

Ice cream Fridays

Many people enjoy ice cream, and what better way to have a little fun than buying a few tubs of assorted ice cream flavours, and sharing them with your team as a summer afternoon treat?

There are plenty of delicious low-fat healthier versions to choose from, and they don’t need to cost the earth. Throw in a box of cones, to make it even more playful and fun.

Team town halls

We run the occasional ‘town hall meeting’ in our organisation, which is a meeting where everyone within the business has an equal voice. We use these to gather feedback about what we are doing well and less than best, as well as ask questions and brainstorm business direction and more.

These become a motivational method to encourage employees to have their say, so whilst not formally a ‘perk’ as such, they do improve employee happiness and are worthy of adding to this employee retention strategies list.

Telecommuting options

Most employees’ roles don’t actually technically require the employee to be present at their desks, week in and week out. Encouraging employees to have more flexibility, such as the occasional ‘work from home’ day, where they can get things done without interruption is a great motivator, and statistics show that many employees end up putting in additional effort on these days as well.

Bring your child to work days

If your team has a number of parents, why not arrange a ‘bring your child to work day’ during school holidays? People love to show their children where they work, and colleagues are typically delighted to meet their families.

Even if not a whole day, perhaps an afternoon once in a while would be fun?

Quick massages

Arranging for a local masseuse or physiotherapist to visit your office each week or month, for 10-15 minute at-your-desk massages is a fantastic way to build happiness amongst your team, and encourage better posture as well.

You can typically get these suppliers to give a healthy discount if they are visiting regularly, and either cover the entire costs, or ask employees to cover half the cost each themselves – this is still significantly cheaper than for one individual to arrange it themselves.

Books for employees

One perk that social media startup darling, Buffer, offers is they provide everyone in their team an endless supply of Kindle books.

This is a fantastic and fairly cost effective way to encourage ongoing learning, and reading for your employees, without a large formal education program.

Encourage peer recognition

Everyone loves to receive the occasional unexpected thank you. It helps motivate you, and improves happiness, which leads to a longer, healthier life. Encourage your team to thank one another, or look at using our peer-to-peer employee recognition system.

Employee happiness

Image: Angie Garrett, Flickr

Team lunches

Depending on the size of your team, and cuisine options nearby, it needn’t cost a fortune to put on a lunch; we regularly have put on a pizza lunch for our team of 14, and it has only cost around $5 per person.

The team bonding and implied recognition for their work makes it a great five dollar spend.

Walking club

This doesn’t need to cost the company one cent; you can arrange this to occur once a week before work, or allow people to have 30 minutes off to do a walk around a nearby park or neighborhood.

Walking has been scientifically linked to so many great health benefits, it will no doubt save the company money in the long run!

Volunteering time

Here’s one of those employee retention strategies that serves another higher purpose as well; helping those less fortunate than yourselves. We all would like a better, more equitable community around us.

One way to achieve these goals is by encouraging your employees to volunteer their time for a cause they are passionate about. You can either just give them time off to do this, or pay their usual wages for their regular volunteer commitments.

Decorating budget

Encourage your employees to either decorate their own work spaces, or vote amongst the team to spend a small budget on an office decoration; this could literally be a small amount, and makes it even more fun if there’s a form of DIY decoration involved.

It brightens up the workplace, and improves employee satisfaction – this is definitely one of our more creative employee retention strategies!

Transport discounts

To encourage your employees to reduce their impact on the environment, perhaps consider paying for a transit card, or giving those who catch public transport an allowance that covers half or all of their fares.

This is great for the environment, helps ease the burden of employee car parks, and is great for their health as well.

Partner recognition

A wonderful activity I heard about recently is having managers call their employees partners, to thank them for being so supportive of their partners occasional late days or weekend calls.

This customer of ours told me that they saw great benefit in team happiness within a few days of their managers doing this.

Gift matching

Want to make a difference to the lives of those less fortunate? You can arrange a regular donation or gift drive, and have your company match the employees’ contributions to a certain level.

This need not be a lot, depending on the size of your team, a few dollars each can make a positive impact on those less fortunate than your employees.

Cultural lunch days

Something we have done in our office previously, is arrange a cultural lunch. We are lucky to have a diverse team, and as a result, we have the occasional ‘bring in a dish from your heritage country’ lunch, and get to taste the delights from around the world.

This fun strategy is completely free to the organisation, or you could pitch in for drinks to accompany the dishes.

Office fruit bowls

A healthy alternative than chocolate is good old fashioned fruit. This doesn’t cost much to supply, and is a small benefit that is not only warmly received by employees, it is also healthy for them.

employee retention strategies

Photo: David Lenker, Flickr

Team workouts

As I am writing this article, I’m watching the team around me participate in a 10 minute stretching routine.

I know, I should be doing it as well, however this just shows that we can have perks that encourage better fitness and employee health, with zero or very little cost.

Laundry service

Nobody likes doing the ironing, so why not arrange a local ironing or laundry service to visit your office once a week and pick up employee ironing?

With a number of employees you should be able to arrange a discounted price, and employees could even pay their own laundry, knowing that you are providing a service, and handing on the discount to them.

In Summary

When you are considering new employee retention strategies, don’t forget that many can be done for free or a very low cost.

Retaining your star employees is such a valuable activity to focus on; it means you spend less on employee turnover, you reduce the chances of knowledge loss, and it keeps the morale of the team high.

By focusing on clever yet inexpensive employee retention strategies, you are both saving costs for regular activities, and saving employee replacement costs; a great double win!

Miles Burke

Miles Burke

Miles is the founder of 6Q. He is passionate about peer-to-peer recognition, company culture, employee engagement and wants every workplace to be the happiest it can be. Miles is also MD of Bam Creative, an author and public speaker.