How To: Improve Employee Morale Without Breaking the Bank


Happy, engaged employees are the lifeblood of any small business. Sure, there are the folks that always do their job happily and with great quality (keep them at almost all costs!) and the folks that aren’t happy no matter what you do (weed them out!), but most of your employees are somewhere in the middle. If they’re engaged and happy, they do great work and produce great value for you. If they’re unhappy, they don’t work nearly as well – and the value produced for you is much less.

Obviously, there are a lot of ways to directly motivate employees: the bottom dollar. A cash bonus for the employee of the month can work, as can nice perks during the work day.

In my experience, though, the best techniques for improving everyone’s morale comes from outside the wallet. Try these six techniques and keep your checkbook and charge cards focused on other areas, like building your business infrastructure and promoting it to potential customers.

Eat lunch with your employees. Eat what they eat – if they brown bag it, you brown bag it. Listen to what they have to say and offer up mostly positive comments and humor. If your employees eat in regular groups, rotate from group to group – don’t keep a group of “favorites.” Lunch is a great time for building camaraderie and trust.

Learn about your employees and follow up. Know about the interests of your employees. Learn about their families and their dreams. More importantly, follow up on the things you learn – ask regularly about their mother’s health or their son’s soccer team. If you’re like me and have trouble remembering such information, especially at first, keep a notebook on it. Keep a list of such information about each employee and refresh yourself regularly if you need it.

Be candid about how things are going. If things are going well, be sure your employees are aware of the success. If things aren’t going well, talk about the problems early on and nip any gossip right in the bud. Gossip is the enemy of the happy workplace – and candor is the best way to fight it. Plus, when you’re open about problems, happy employees will often go the extra mile to help pull you through. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth.

Give plenty of opportunities for their candor as well. On a regular basis (I do it weekly), touch base with every employee or contractor in your small business. Just stop in, ask them how they’re doing and if they’re having any troubles, and listen to what they have to say, even if you disagree or don’t like what they’re telling you. Take notes, especially when normally-happy employees observe a problem – there’s usually something that needs to be fixed.

Give compliments on good work, both individually and publicly. Make an effort to compliment everyone on their work in individual situations, particularly when you can point out specifics. When someone really does well, point it out to the group – but don’t point out the same person every single time. Highlight a variety of people and give them public recognition.

Implement reasonable suggested changes whenever you can. Employees often suggest little things that they’d really like to see in the workplace. If you can implement these things, it goes a huge way towards making that employee feel more empowered, involved, and happy. If an employee suggests starting a community coffee pot, do it. If an employee suggests a better arrangement for the office supplies, try it. If someone suggests a better way to handle meetings, give it a try. Every time you execute a reasonable suggested change, it greatly raises one employee’s morale and gives a small lift to everyone.

Good luck at putting all this newfound employee productivity to good use!

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