In tough economic times, you may not have the funds for raises or bonuses even for your most dedicated employees. As other businesses go into bankruptcy and lay off people, you think your workers are fortunate to hold onto their jobs.
But when the economy improves, workers who feel unappreciated will start polishing their resumes. Showing your employees you value them now will make them willing to weather the tough times and stay around when the business climate improves.
“Businesses don’t factor in the cost of turnover,” says Ed Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia and author of “So, You Want to Start A Business? 8 Steps to Take Before Making the Leap.”
“The first aspect is the cost of training new employees — the lost time and productivity,” he says.
At least as important are the relationships your workers build with your customers. Hess reminds us how much we appreciate the person at the coffee shop who has our medium coffee with skim milk already made when we get to the counter. “It’s hard to have a customer relationship when the customer is dealing with a different employee every time,” Hess says. “If your employees are happy, customers pick up on that. It’s a direct pass-through.”
- Say thank you
- Recognize them with an award
- Give the gift of time
- Take suggestions
- Offer free food
- Invest in education and health
- Tell them a timeline for raises
The easiest, least expensive way to motivate workers is often overlooked — saying thank you. “A lot of business owners take their employees for granted,” Hess says. “A sincere ‘job well done’ is a small price to pay for that extra bit of effort that makes all the difference.”
Take it a step further and write thank-you notes to employees for a pleasant surprise in their mailboxes at work or home, Hess says. And make it specific to a certain job — ‘Thank you for staying late to meet the deadline on the Jones project’ — not just ‘Thanks for all your hard work.’
Beyond a thank you, recognition awards make employees feel valued as part of the team.
“Whether it’s a simple blue ribbon they can hang in their cubicle or a framed certificate, present the award in front of all your employees and tell the honoree exactly why you are giving it,” Hess says. Your honored worker gets time in the spotlight and you get the chance to make the point to all your employees that quality work is valued.
If you can’t afford raises, consider the gift of time. Give additional days off, making a Tuesday or Thursday holiday into a four-day weekend, says Robin Noah, a business management consultant with SCORE in Orange County, Calif., a nonprofit resource for small businesses. Or, give employees their birthdays off or an extra personal day. Make sure they understand what the time is worth.
If you’re looking to cut payroll expenses, give employees the option to take three hours off without pay whenever they need the time, Noah adds.
Another option is giving staff members the flexibility to work from home and attend meetings via conference calls. “We’ve seen this reduce expenses and increase productivity,” says Vanessa Horwell, chief visibility officer of ThinkInk PR in Miami. Employees who are too sick to come in to work or have a sick child may be able to work on projects at home.
Ask employees for suggestions to improve the business. Whether your business is baking bread, fixing faucets or selling sofas, your employees know what works. Ask them how to improve the process and you’ll end up with a better product and/or better customer service, Hess says.
The bonus: Research shows employees will be more satisfied, Hess says. “The silver bullet is high employee engagement,” he adds. “Employees want to be appreciated, listened to and respected.” You can always offer an award for great ideas, but it’s not necessary, Hess says. “All you have to do is act on the ideas,” he says.
The words “free food” can start a stampede of smiling workers to the employee break room. Whether it’s pizza for lunch on Fridays, doughnuts in the morning or parties to commemorate birthdays, food will boost morale. “Food at the office always makes work fun,” Hess says. “A little bit goes a long way.”
For something different, send people home on Friday night with a pizza or restaurant gift certificate. “Most of us work a real long full day and then have to worry about what’s on the dinner table,” he says. But don’t get into a rut. “If you do pizza every Friday for lunch, it becomes the norm,” Hess says. “Don’t do anything that becomes part of the routine. Have surprises.”
It will be more expensive than other methods of appreciating employees, but if you can swing the cost, broaden employees’ horizons by paying for them to attend community college classes or a seminar that interests them. If the classes are work-related, says Hess, then, “great. You’ve paid for them to learn skills that will help them do their jobs better.” If the classes aren’t work-related, “that’s great too, because you’ve likely helped your employees build on areas that will make them feel better about themselves, thus making them happier employees.”
Provide your employees with gym memberships. Look for a group rate at a local gym to keep your costs down, Hess advises. Employees who exercise will have more energy to give at the office. Plus, “Their improved health will help you save on health insurance and paid sick days,” he says.
Every other Friday, workers at TenGoldenRules.com in Boca Raton, Fla., get 20 minutes of relaxation with a chair massage. “It is a great benefit, helps reduce stress and we make it a fun day every second Friday,” says CEO Jay Berkowitz. “Employees love it and I wouldn’t miss it. As I sit here totally relaxed from my massage, it is a great way to end the week and start the weekend.”
If you have to delay raises or bonuses or even cut pay, give employees a date when you’ll revisit the issue, Noah says. “I would tell my people, ‘We know how much money you’re losing here,'” Noah says. “Let your people know that when you get back on your feet, you’ll take a look at what you can do to bring them closer to where they would normally be.”