2009 Small Business Guide
small business
Motivating employees in tough times

4. Take suggestions 

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.

5. Offer free food 

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."

6. Invest in education and health 
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."

7. Tell them a timeline for raises 

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."



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