How to reward your team WITHOUT custom travel experiences

The parade of jaw-dropping employee perks seems endless.

Gourmet cafeterias, free pet care, and dream vacations might work for tech companies such as Google. Can you offer this to your team?

Beach on Lombok Island, Indonesia

Maybe not.

You can still do special things for your team besides sending them to a beach in Indonesia.

There are many ways to show appreciation. Not only the ways that make headlines.

The author of a recent Forbes article proposes cash to spend on learning as a strong employee benefit in a cutthroat workforce market. Do you offer learning to your team?

Online courses are an opportunity to show appreciation through learning because they deliver value to people in ways that flashy perks do not.

Your team is already seeking learning.

A recent Wall Street Journal article demonstrates how workers already pursue learning on their own time (and dime) as employers “shift responsibility to the individual.”

Don’t make this hard. Give your people what they already want.

Once upon a time, online courses were polluted by fake universities and diploma mills. Online providers, such as edX.org, Coursera, and Udacity, have changed the system by partnering with respected academic institutions.

For example, the edX.org MicroMasters program provides customizable, bite-sized programs where learners earn a credential that helps them stand out professionally and represents the knowledge and skills that they bring to work.

Whether you realize it or not, your company needs this knowledge and these skills.

As co-author of a recent IEEE article, which analyzed edX.org courses offered by MIT to thousands of working professionals, we discovered that even recognizable companies are less sophisticated than they expect in key engineering subjects. The same principle applies to other subjects.

Therefore, empowering your team using online courses also strengthens your organization.

First, focus on rewards. Your team needs freedom. Encourage learning even in subjects that don’t apply directly to work responsibilities. If it feels like training, they won’t perceive it as a reward.

Second, assess the landscape. Learning costs range from $49 certificates on Coursera to thousands for elite university programs. Guide your teams towards options that will truly benefit them. (See this exhaustive list of online course offerings.)

Third, ground your expectations. Certificates are not equivalent to traditional degrees. Immediate organizational benefits are not guaranteed. Outcomes depend on the learner, program, and overall environment.

Finally, if your budgets constrain fancy perks, then free time during working hours to learn is one of the best rewards that you can give to your team.