Employees are one of the biggest expenses for a small business, but the right employee can be a huge asset, too. Functions like customer service, sales, and marketing rely on the talents of conscientious people with a good grasp of what your business is all about. When you’re small, you may not be able to pay for the best talent, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exemplary employees out there waiting for a chance to exchange hard work for recognition — even if the significant monetary rewards are a ways down the road. If you think you have good people, but the spark and drive to succeed has dimmed over the last couple of tough years, these tips are big motivators that can help turn lackluster employee performance into renewed enthusiasm.

Tips for Motivating Your Employees

Be polite – It sounds so basic, but courtesy and respect can go a long way toward making an okay workday a good one. Employees read the motivational emails and newsletters, but they respond to being treated with civility and consideration.

Go right to the source – If you’re having problems motivating your staff, ask them for honest feedback about what it’s like to work for you. Prepare a list of multiple choice questions designed to evaluate employee satisfaction about everything from the availability of parking spaces to the effectiveness of employee reviews. Although topics like benefits and compensation will probably make it to the short list of things of concern to your staff, other important issues to address are: autonomy, consistency, communication, training, workload and the potential for advancement. Provide a comment box or some other method that will make responding to your questionnaire easy and anonymous. You may be able to guess at the issues holding your employees back, but you won’t really know until you ask. Once you do know, you can start working to make a few changes.

Embrace flexibility – Employees want good compensation, but if you aren’t in a position to give everyone a raise today, opt for the next best thing. Explore some ways to make your workplace more accommodating. From flex time to allowing workers to perform some of their duties from home to save on gasoline, employees respond to policies that speak to their individual needs. When your business is small, you’re in a good position to offer increased flexibility even if you can’t match the comprehensive benefits packages offered by larger companies.

Make work fun – Work is work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too — some of the time, anyway. If your workplace is short on humor and the occasional change of pace, throw in a few lunchtime grilling parties, volunteer as a group to earn money for a deserving charity, or hold a prize drawing (where you provide the prize). Sponsoring fun or worthwhile activities encourages employees to relax. It also helps to build team spirit.

Use your employee brain trust – If your employees are feeling disconnected, make an effort to include them in your strategic planning efforts. When you add a new product to your line, ask for marketing suggestions. If you’re after better production efficiency, solicit feedback about what works and what doesn’t. When you use a suggestion, offer a monetary or other reward. Your business will improve and your employees will feel more valued.

It’s worth the extra time and effort to change your small business work climate, and listening to your employees is a great place to start. Happier employees use fewer sick days, make fewer mistakes, are more helpful toward one another, and are more likely to be proactive and meticulous. The first step is up to you.

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