By Randy Donaldson
A good leader can inspire and motivate employees in any economy. Even if you only have 1 or 2 employees, they are unquestionably a critical part of your organization. Smart business owners know that there is a direct link between motivated, happy employees and the success of their business.
“Show me the money!” has always been a universal cry among employees. Without a doubt, cash compensation is among the strongest motivators for most people. Given recent economic conditions, however, very few small businesses have the extra cash to reward their employees. There are a number of different non-cash rewards that a business owner can use to effectively motivate their staff. Let’s look at a few that you can use:
- Communicate with all employees. There is nothing more important to the morale and productivity of your employees than for the owners to keep them informed about what’s happening with the company, and the industry. Lack of communication from management leads to non-productive, distrusting employees who listen to the rumor mill about who is going to go in “the next layoff”. An open door policy with all of management keeps morale high. A little extra effort in this regard will reap big payoffs for small business owners. Most importantly, communication is free.
- Encourage feedback – “The Employee Suggestion Box”. The communication described above is a two-way street. Ask your employees for suggestions on how to improve the business. Regardless of your business’s products or services, your employees usually know what works and what doesn’t. Employees want to be appreciated, needed, and respected. By listening to your employees’ ideas, you obtain a high level of employee involvement. Research has proven that employee involvement leads to a motivated and satisfied workforce. It is important, however, to show the employees that you value their input by following through and acting on any workable ideas. Otherwise, it will be seen as so much management “lip service” and not a sincere effort to improve the company.
- Look for intangible rewards. Different people are motivated by different things. There are many low-cost or no-cost ways of retaining and rewarding your best employees. Some people are strongly motivated by non-monetary rewards, such as group recognition, attaining more responsibility, a bigger office, or better title. One of the least expensive (and most overlooked) ways to motivate your workforce is to simply say “thank you”. A sincere “thank you” from the boss is one of the most effective motivators for any employee. This is especially true if it is written, and for a specific project or event (not just “thank you for all that you do”). Most importantly, employees tend to be happier and more productive when they enjoy their workplace. Fun is very motivational. Make sure your organization finds ways to have fun at work.
- Employee training raises morale and leads to strong organizational loyalty. A well-trained employee is more confident, happier and more productive. You are paying for them to learn skills which will help them do their jobs better, which in turn will help both the company and the employee. Training is more expensive than the other ideas listed here, but it is a very powerful tool for motivating and retaining your best employees, and well worth the investment.
- The gift of time. If you can’t afford raises, consider simply giving them additional time off with pay. Give an additional day off on a holiday weekend to make a four-day weekend. Or consider giving employees their birthdays off, or an extra personal day. If you do this, make sure you send a clear message to the employee that, although his or her time and services are very valuable to the company, you are offering the day off to them as a reward for past performance. Another version of the gift of time is to give employees the flexibility to work from home several days a week. An employee who is sick or has a sick child or spouse may be able to work on projects from home that day. Avoiding the work commute is seen as a “bonus” by employees and can reduce expenses and increase productivity.
- Examine your own management style. Are you an autocratic leader? They generally disregard their employees, telling them “it’s my way or the highway!” This leads to low morale and high turnover. Are you a collaborative leader? They lead by their own actions, value their employees and encourage them to be successful. Your personal management style directly affects employee retention and morale.
By utilizing the above low-cost ideas, you can retain and motivate your valuable employees, without “breaking the bank”.