When I found my businesses expanding beyond my husband and me, I began to feel a tremendous amount of pressure to make my employees happy. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything in my power to make them feel appreciated and motivated. But how?
I’ve heard that money talks, but apparently it doesn’t speak to everyone. According to a Harvard Business School analysis of research on the workplace, the connection between salary and job satisfaction is “very weak.” In fact, workers who value intrinsic rewards, like general enjoyment and fulfillment, over extrinsic rewards, like money, are significantly more engaged and motivated.
As a boss, it’s in your best interest to foster those intrinsic rewards — many of which don’t come with a price tag. (Win-win.) This is especially good news for those of us just starting out with businesses on limited budgets.
With this intention in mind, I experimented with a few techniques at my company. Here’s what worked for me.
1. Find and Nurture Their ‘Why’
When we understand why our employees want to work for our company, we can give them more experiences to foster their passion. For example, my creative director loves to work for my brand because she believes in the message behind what we do. She feels it’s important. Knowing that, I’ve invited her to go beyond creative direction and take some ownership in the messaging and how we serve our customers.
To find these “whys,” consider asking questions that address a broader motivation during the employee's quarterly review or in an office survey. If you spend regular one-on-one time with your employees, you can probably figure out what makes them spark just by watching their reactions. If you see extra excitement around an assignment, ask them why, for example.
In addition to handing off special projects that speak to your employees’ individual motivations, you can encourage those employees who are passionate about your industry by inviting them networking events or letting them sit in on meetings where they can learn.
2. Offer Flexibility and Compassion
Acknowledge that your employees have a life outside of work by offering flexible hours, work-from-home days, or an even just an understanding nod when someone’s child unexpectedly needs to be picked up from school.
If you’re worried about flextime getting out of hand, give your employees a specific number of days when they can work from home or have flexible hours, and set up a simple system for tracking, like a Google calendar.
You can also try focusing solely on the results: At my husband’s business, they have shared to-do lists for their employees. As long as those tasks are getting knocked out, he doesn’t care whether they’re in the office or in Paris. This way, employees manage their own schedules and can meet deadlines in whatever ways work best for them.
3. Focus on Lifetime Career Goals
We might want to hold on to our awesome employees forever, but if we truly care, we want them to blossom. Beyond fostering their growth in their current positions, support your employees’ goals over the long term.This means finding out where they want to go in five, 10, or 15 years, even if it includes leaving your company.
Once you know where they want to go, you can help your employees move toward those goals by providing mentorship or tailored projects. For example, when my assistant told me she wanted to be a full-time actress, I coached her in marketing and branding herself. Two years later, she left our company to follow her passion and we couldn’t have been happier for her.
Because I was supportive of her long-term goals, she worked did excellent work while she was here. If I had clipped her wings, I can’t imagine she would have enjoyed the work as much or been as motivated.
4. Brag Up Their Successes
Jenny Gustafson, a publicist at the Houston-based communications agency Integrate, says all her coworkers keep bells on their desks. When they accomplish something worth celebrating, no matter how big or small, they’re encouraged to ring the bell for themselves or a colleague.
If you don’t have a bell lying around, you can send a group email or make an announcement on your company Facebook page. At my company, we give recognition at the beginning of our monthly group meetings. We’re a small group, so we make sure to give an individual shout-out to everyone. I’m not very sophisticated about how I keep track of their accomplishments, but a notepad page on my iPhone seems to be working.
With a ritual like this one, not only are you applauding your team’s success, but you’re also establishing a safe environment where employees can find pride and value in their work.
5. Encourage Vacation
Having an integral member of a small team out of the office can be a challenge, but everyone needs a day off — especially those employees who never take vacation.
My husband and I do our best to lead by example by taking a vacation each quarter, hoping we’re setting a standard within the company culture. Yet we still see that our employees need the extra push, which is why we check in regularly — particularly during long weekends and holiday weeks.
If you want to be a little more intentional about this, set up a system where you can identify those employees who go months without taking a day off (an Excel spreadsheet of days off or a calendar reminder to check in quarterly should do the trick). Send a quick email letting them know that you appreciate their dedication, but more importantly, you appreciate their health. And then politely kick them out of the office, but not before letting them know that someone else will help to pick up their work while they’re gone. This can also be a formal program, where a predetermined group of employees pitches in to help when others are taking time off.