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Eight Ways to Show Your Employees the Love

Thanks to the struggling economy, many small business owners are putting a freeze on raises and bonuses. But according to Ed Hess, entrepreneurial expert, and Charles Goetz, a distinguished lecturer in entrepreneurship at Goizueta Business School, Emory University, that makes it all the more critical to show your appreciation in other ways if you want them to stick around for the long haul.

America may be in one of the longest economic tough periods in recent decades, but if you're a small business owner, you know that doesn't mean less work for you. On the contrary, it means there's much more. You're hustling to attract more clients, bending over backwards to keep the ones you have, and scrambling to keep up with the day-to-day tasks that keep the business working. If you're lucky, you don't have to shoulder this extra work on your own, because you have a team of hard-working employees toiling right alongside you. But here's the real question: In the (understandable) absence of raises and bonuses, how long can you expect them to stick around?

Many small business owners wrongly assume that employees respond only to money, a belief that's distressing indeed in these cash-strapped days. In times like this, it is important to go back to basics and remember that employees want the same things owners want: to be appreciated, to be listened to and respected, to have a chance to be all they can be, and to be part of something special.

"Did your second grade teacher make you feel good by paying you money?" says Hess. "No, she gave you a gold star to commemorate your achievement and told you what a great job you did. That principle works in the business world too.

"There are many great ways to keep up employee morale and build loyalty that can cost you very little or even nothing," adds Goetz. "You just have to pay attention to your employees' needs and be creative."

Say, "Thank you." It's so simple, it almost seems silly to mention it, but just telling your employees "Thank you," when they've done a great job will go a long way. Verbal recognition of the work they do will not only keep their morale up, it will increase the mutual respect that exists between the two of you. As a result, they'll not only work hard for you, but they'll stick with you through thick and thin.

Give them inexpensive bonuses. While money is tight, you can't give your employees significant raises or bonuses, but you can show your appreciation with other small, less pricey rewards. A few great options include a gift certificate to a local restaurant or tickets to a show or ball game. Alternately, consider giving them a Friday afternoon off with pay.

Provide them with free meals. The quickest way to your employees' hearts is through their stomachs. Providing a catered lunch once a month or doughnuts in the morning is a great way to keep up employee morale and to say thank you to your employees. Also don't forget to take advantage of birthdays and anniversaries. Celebrate each of them with a small party (that includes cake), and not only will your employees appreciate your recognition of them, but it provides a great opportunity for everyone to get together, mingle and have an enjoyable time at work.

Award them. You might want to a have a better system than Michael's "Dundies" on The Office, but coming up with a way to award great work at your business is a fun way to show your employees that you value their hard work.

Write them a thank-you note. Taking the time to write a short thank-you note to a hardworking employee is always well worth it. Let the note be a nice surprise for them by putting it in their mailbox at work or by mailing it to their home. And make it specific—"Thank you for staying late last Thursday to help clean the treatment rooms" is a lot more powerful than a vague "Thanks for all your hard work!"

Help them improve themselves. Your employees appreciate it when you are willing to invest in their future and help them widen their horizons. You can do this by paying for them to attend a class to learn a new technique or service.

Help them get healthy. Providing your employees with a gym membership can have multiple benefits. It's another great way for you to say thank you and help them improve their lives, but there are other benefits as well. First of all, you can get a group deal at your local gym so the cost to you won't be very significant. Secondly, your exercised employees will have more energy that they will expend at work. Finally, their improved health will help you save on health insurance and paid sick days.

Ask them what they'd like to improve about the business. You might be surprised by what you hear. One employee might suggest some new treatment tables while another might suggest a new way for greeting clients. Either way they will be changes that will help them do their jobs better. It will make them feel like they have some ownership in your company—plus, it can be hard for an employee to leave when he feels that he has helped build your company into the great business it is.

"Your employees know that times are tough, so it is unlikely that they are going to be screaming 'Show me the money' at you," says Hess. "But when all of this is over, you don't want them looking back and thinking Man, I really worked hard for my boss when he needed me and not once did he say thank you. Your employees want to do a great job for you. They want you to care. So show it to them! It's that simple."

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