No matter the industry or the situation, one of the most important management skills is the ability to tailor your management style to fit individual employees. Effective leaders know that the ways they interact with employees must differ from person to person to be successful. A one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. This seems to be even more true when morale is the problem a manager is addressing.

In my recent article, “Keep your staff upbeat and informed with these morale-boosting tips,” I outlined some tactics for motivating and rewarding IT employees who work long, laborious days. However, based on comments from TechRepublic members, a blanket approach to boosting morale is ineffective at best. Simply put, what works for one employee may mean next to nothing to another. This article highlights some member thoughts on the motivational ideas that keep attitudes on the upswing in IT workplaces.

Money talks
Although TechRepublic member Chris Ellis appreciates company-wide congratulatory e-mails in recognition of hard, quality work, these gestures aren’t necessarily good motivational tools. What’s more, any kind of company-issued token of appreciation will ultimately wind up collecting dust on a desktop or shelf. According to Ellis, the key to motivating and rewarding employees is “the one thing everyone needs for survival—cash.”

Cash awards are effective because employees can share the recognition with their families to cover necessary expenses or enjoy some kind of “extra.”

“This [cash reward] is not in place of raises,” wrote Ellis, “but imagine doing it every other month—just 50 bucks—300 per year—your teams will love it.”

When support specialist Chetan Parmar was working long and hard hours, management acknowledged his effort with a pat on the back. The gesture, though very much appreciated, did little to boost Parmar’s morale. But he said that finally, “I did receive one cash bonus this year, and it was great. I had some money I could spend, and I felt good about the company.”

Offer more lasting rewards
Cash rewards may do the trick for IT pros like Ellis or Parmar, but as most of us know too well, money comes and goes quite quickly. Network engineer Brian Jones feels that once the cash is spent, the recognition it symbolizes disappears. For Jones, a more effective and economical use of company cash is to upgrade the equipment that employees deal with during their long days.

“What about an upgrade…or that new flat-screen monitor? Employees get a constant reminder of those rewards every day when they look at them, and the company gets to depreciate the reward [on its taxes],” he wrote.

Time to experiment
In addition to providing employees with new or improved equipment, allowing staff members to experiment with it on company time can create a sense of empowerment among employees and benefit the company at large. In jfolker’s organization, employees are granted a certain amount of time each week to essentially “play around with” the infrastructure.

“We have a team here that created their own add-on to our change-control application, which streamlined our reporting and increased the accuracy at the same time. It was encouraging for everyone to see this type of innovation accepted and encouraged by management,” jfolker wrote.

According to Dennis Dickens, such freedom to experiment yielded immense benefits at the 3M Company several years ago. Employees there were allowed to spend between 10 and 15 percent of their time on “personal projects.” This “bootleg time” kindled employee creativity, gave people a break from daily routines, and according to Dickens, spurred the invention of the ubiquitous Post-It Notes.

If given the choice between cash bonuses or a less tangible, work-centric reward, Greig Ness, a senior project manager in the United Kingdom, would most definitely choose creative incentives like 3M’s bootleg time. “If cash is what motivates you, then go contracting,” wrote Ness. ”Let’s face it: Money does nothing for your CV [resume].”

All in all, rewards and morale management boil down to the issue of personal preference. Be it money, better on-site tools, or time to experiment, it’s thoroughly apparent that CIOs and managers should find out what motivates employees and design an incentive program to match.

What’s the key to managing morale?

What kinds of rewards work in today’s IT workplace? Are there creative, inexpensive ways to keep employees upbeat and content? Join the discussion and share your thoughts.