Project Management

Motivation without money

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from

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Categories: team

These days project budgets don’t stretch to nice things like bonuses for all team members for when the project completes on time. If the team members don’t work for you then you probably can’t give them a pay rise either. You might not even get enough in the budget left over for a party at the end of the project. Even if you do, you might be hampered by local tax laws that specify how much you can give gifts in lieu of financial amounts, and you could make it harder for people to complete their tax returns by giving any sort of bonus at all.

Common practice on projects is to take people out for a meal or even to a bar for drinks, but if your budget is tight you might have to resort to getting people to pay for themselves, or for you to pay for the first round of drinks, for example. There are other ways to motivate your team without it looking like you are being too stingy.

So, if you can’t motivate people to do a good job with financial incentives, what can you do to ensure they perform well (or to reward people who did perform well)? Here are some ideas.

Grant time off

You might have to check with their line manager, but granting someone time off in lieu of extra hours worked can be a great way to reward project team members who have put in extra hours during a push on a project, or a go live weekend. It’s also worth checking with HR about the policy for this, as you could be setting a precedent, but it is definitely worth considering.

Training courses

Being ‘allowed’ to go on a training course might not seem like much of a reward. After all, surely this is part of your normal contract of employment with your boss – they should be providing training anyway. But in times like these where extra cash for training is hard to come by, operations managers might not have a training budget. You, on the other hand, could offer developmental activities as part of the project, and then encourage people to try out their new skills. There’s even a process for this in thePMBOK® Guide – Develop Project Team.

Time off for study

If someone is taking a professional credential like PMP or working towards an MBA, could you give them time off to study? Many companies have study leave policies but managers don’t always know about what their employees are studying for outside of the office. If you can find out, you can apply the policy terms and make sure that those employees feel supported during their learning.


This is probably the fastest, cheapest way to build good will in the team. Saying thank you is completely free and people appreciate it a lot more than you think. Say it often, and every so often do it in writing so that they can keep your email for their end of year review, or to show it to their manager.

Remember to say it in a timely manner – it’s no good thanking someone for a job well done when that was last month as they might not even remember what they did that was so deserving!

References for contractors

Most contractors will expect a reference at the end of a contract, but knowing that you are prepared to give a positive one can be a motivating factor. People appreciate that they are appreciated, and are prepared to put the work in if it means they get something out of it at the end.

Talk to your contractors about their expectations for a reference or recommendation and see what you can jointly do to ensure that their skills are recognised elsewhere in the organisation where they may be able to get their next contract.

Bring your own picnic

OK, it’s not as glam as going to a restaurant, but you could organise a pot luck picnic with everyone bringing their own food. If your office has a garden or outside space, or even a park within walking distance, you can camp out there. Otherwise, book a meeting room and get all the food on the table. This can also be a good team building exercise – after all, you don’t want everyone turning up with a bowl of green salad!

What other ways have you motivated your employees without hard cash? Let us know in the comments.

Posted on: September 15, 2013 11:54 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Beautiful article, highly valuable, address pragmatic situation for any project management.

Well said. and practical.

Great ideas! Thank you for sharing.

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