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How to retain your star employees – without offering a pay rise

With the second half of 2023 imminent, including new financial year budgeting in some countries, now is a good time to ask this critical question: how can we retain our workers if we can’t offer pay rises?


Despite ongoing economic uncertainty and headlines about redundancies occurring in some sectors, many employers are still struggling with acute labour shortages. Indeed, a June report by ManpowerGroup revealed that hiring intentions in Australia are the highest in the Asia-Pacific region.

With 46% of surveyed employers planning to hire in Q3 2023, Australia registered a Net Employment Outlook of +37%, closely followed by other APAC markets such as India (36%) and China (35%). Just 12% of Australian organisations expect a staffing decrease and 38% planned to keep workforce levels steady.

The country’s outlook is an increase of seven percentage points from the last quarter and a decrease by one percentage point since the same quarter last year.

The UK market is also optimistic, with ManpowerGroup’s data showing hiring confidence increasing in Q3 in almost every sector, rising by 8 percentage points to +29% since last quarter. 44% of surveyed employers expect to hire in Q3, 15% expect a staffing decrease, and 38% expect to remain the same.

New Zealand showed similar, though slightly more subdued, optimism. The latest Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence Survey revealed a 1.5% uptick in employment confidence to 109.5 in the March quarter, as the unemployment rate remained close to a multi-decade low, at 3.4%. The increase was modest compared to the seven-point drop in the three months to December.

Clearly, staff attraction and retention remain top priorities for many businesses. But how can that be done if more pay can’t be offered – especially at a time when the rising cost of living is putting enormous pressure on many employees? For those in low paid, casual, or less secure roles this is an even more pressing issue.

A new value proposition

We know that pay isn’t everything, but it’s high on the priority list for most people. A global Michael Page report saw 24% of respondents placing ‘salary/compensation’ at the top of the Michael Page ‘attraction index’, which aims to show the relative strength of motivators that attract the best talent. This was followed by ‘flexibility’ (14%), ‘career progression/promotion’ (13%) and ‘work location’ (8%). Equally telling, 7 in 10 people would choose mental health and work-life balance over career success (defined as a split between good pay and job satisfaction).

The same report said a clear value equation had emerged since COVID-19 changed the world:
pay + career growth + flexibility = happier, more engaged workers.

As that equation shows, non-monetary incentives are worth considering for any organisation that needs to reduce staff turnover and attract fresh workers but cannot offer more take-home pay. Looking at the holistic employee experience, or total rewards, from hire to retire, and how your organisation can impact areas like professional development, work-life balance, personal finances and health and wellbeing, can all help.

4 cost-effective ways to retain and attract talent

Here are four areas to consider if remuneration budgets are tight:

1.      Autonomy and flexibility

In any relationship, trust is critical. The same applies in the workplace. The level of trust in that relationship can either increase or erode worker satisfaction. The best way to demonstrate that an organisation trusts its employees is by offering greater autonomy and flexibility. Taking the time to understand each employee’s working style, their personal circumstances and their work preferences can positively impact their work-life balance, their sense of ‘belonging’ and their health and wellbeing. Technology like Humanforce can help. For example, empowering employees to be able to select and bid on available shifts helps to more effectively integrate ‘work’ and ‘life’ to suit the personal circumstances of each worker.

2.      Rewards and recognition

A simple ‘than-you’ from a manager can be a powerful reminder that everyone’s contribution makes a difference and contributes to the bigger picture. However, recognition shouldn’t be a one-off effort and can take any number of forms. Scheduled time for verbal recognition and appreciation, social media posts, instant messages, and monthly company-wide awards can all make a difference. And just because deskless workers may not be working in one location at the same time as their peers doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Workforce management software like Humanforce enables managers to build connections and improve communications with team members no matter where they are based – including shout-outs for a job well done – all via mobile devices.

The rewards tied to this recognition also don’t need to break the budget. Additional paid leave, fun activities for the worker’s family, discounts from retailers or care packages all show appreciation for a job well done.

If the rewards & recognition program is linked to the company mission and values and serve to reinforce certain behaviours, all the better.

3.      Health and wellbeing

There’s a growing expectation that employers should take a more active role in supporting the health and wellbeing of employees. Just as critically, there’s increasing evidence showing the benefits flow both ways.

For example, PwC research shows that 76% of surveyed employees would be attracted to another company that cares about their financial wellbeing. Even for employees who said they were not currently stressed about their financial situation, 57% said they would be attracted to another company that cares about their financial wellbeing.

A 2022 study by Mercer revealed that employee wellbeing benefits are perceived by executives as the people initiative that will deliver the second greatest ROI in the next two years (after reskilling).

A holistic approach will cover four critical areas – physical, emotional, financial and social wellness:

Emotional wellness

Looking after employees’ mental health means providing access to initiatives such as an employee assistance program (EAP), as well as helping employees with their resilience and ability to deal with stressful situations. Some employers offer on-premise or virtual meditation, or a paid subscription to health apps. In addition, a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment can create a more tolerant, diverse and supportive culture.


Social wellness

The ‘social’ pillar means cultivating a sociable culture within the workplace, but also recognising that employees have a life outside of it. Spending time with family and friends and having time to pursue other non-work interests can help people feel more fulfilled – and that has a natural flow-on benefit to the workplace. Deskless workers may feel they must accept whatever shift is offered to them, so organisations need to proactively seek out opportunities for them to carve out that time away from work. Not only does this lead to happier, more balanced individuals, it also allows employees to be more present when they’re at work. Employees can cater to this need by offering flexible schedules to facilitate greater work-life balance, or options such as subsidised childcare.


Physical wellness

Healthier employees are generally happier, have more energy and are better placed to manage stress. Physical wellness initiatives needn’t be costly. Consider launching a run club, or host gym/yoga classes. Beyond fitness, there are initiatives such as free health screenings and vaccinations or offering educational resources on topics like nutrition and sleep.


Financial wellness

Financial compensation for work done means employees can buy food and pay their rent (the basic physiological needs from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) – so how they are compensated plays a big part in their wellbeing. But when remuneration budgets are tight or pay is low, there are other ways employers can address these needs. This could be anything from offering financial education resources on subjects such as saving strategies and developing healthy money habits; helping employees prepare for a secure future; or providing financial planning services and tools for employees to map out their financial goals.


Employers of deskless workers might consider offering the following benefits:

  • Providing access to a professional financial or tax advisor, or partnering with a local specialist to offer these services at a discounted rate to employees
  • Helping employees to save on tax with salary sacrifice schemes. This is where they pay for a benefit through their gross salary, which reduces their tax liability
  • Subsidising travel costs to and from the workplace – this is a valuable perk for deskless workers who cannot work from home due to the nature of their jobs
  • Using benefits to stretch salaries. An employee discount scheme is one way to do this, helping people save money on a range of items, from the weekly supermarket shop to health and travel insurance


Humanforce recently launched Thrive, a suite of financial tools and benefits that not only bolster the financial wellbeing of employees but can also improve time-to-hire, retention and productivity by giving staff the tools to take control of their financial lives. The suite consists of:

  • Thrive Track: Provide your employees with the tools to create budgets with confidence, pick up extra shifts as needed, and see their earnings grow in real-time.
  • Thrive Access: Give employees the ability to access up to 50% of their earned wages so they can budget more effectively and cover emergency costs without stress.
  • Thrive Grow: Empower employees to reach their goals faster and make money-saving second nature with pre-pay automated transfers.
  • Thrive Learn: Improve financial literacy by giving your employees access to the best financial education, individually tailored based on their reported financial wellbeing scores.

4.      Professional development

In a rapidly changing world, offering ways to upskill, reskill and cross-skill workers has never been more important. A 2022 Boston Consulting Group study showed that ‘lack of career development’ was the second most commonly cited reason for deskless workers to consider leaving their jobs.

Depending on the learning options provided, this can also be an effective way to retain employees without breaking the bank. For example, coaching and mentoring, job shadowing and offering short, bite-sized digital learning can all be cost effective options for employers of deskless workers.

Mobile learning is particularly appealing, as shift-based workers may not have access to laptops and cannot afford to take time away from their duties. ‘Anywhere, anytime’ learning has been branded as learning (or growth) in the flow of work. This encompasses practices and tools that allow learners to extract information they need, when they need it, without having to interrupt their work processes. The most practical delivery method for this learning is via mobile devices. Research by The Josh Bersin Company states:


“Caring for people’s careers starts with caring for their skill development. By building the right learning experience and critical future skills, learning organisations can help workers amplify their future growth potential.”


Employers of deskless workers might want to consider these essentials:


  • Experience: Stretch projects or tasks employees can take on to help them learn
  • Exposure: Job shadowing, cross-functional collaboration, coaching, networking, professional associations
  • Education: Courses, online / mobile learning, books, podcasts, workshops


The work experience is about more than money alone

People have different motivators. The things that get people out of bed and into work can vary widely. Ultimately, although more money will always rank highly for employees, there are other ways to inspire, motivate and engage workers. Providing the right level of support, assigning purpose to their work, creating a culture of continuous learning, and offering greater autonomy and flexibility can all play a role.

For further tips on retaining your top talent in 2023, download Humanforce’s handy eBook here.

About Humanforce

Humanforce is a leading provider of composable, best-of-breed workforce management, payroll and wellbeing solutions that simplify onboarding, scheduling, time & attendance, pay, employee engagement, and communication for frontline workforces. Founded in 2002, Humanforce has a 1700-strong customer base and over half a million users across a wide range of industries, including aged care, child care, hospitality, retail, local government and more. Today, we have offices across Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Our vision is to make work easier and life better by focusing on the needs and fulfilment of frontline workers and the efficiency and optimisation of businesses.

To find out how we can help your organisation, contact us or schedule a demo.