5 low-cost ways to recognize employees in your small business

Big companies often have large-scale programs to reward star-performing employees. As a small business owner, you probably don’t have the resources to give workers big bonuses for landing new clients or trips to exotic locations for increasing their sales quotas.
But business expert Kevin Kruse, author of “Employee Engagement for Everyone,” says you can always find ways to let your employees know you appreciate them — without spending a lot of money.
“Recognition is one of the top three drivers of employee engagement — growth and trust are the other two,” Kruse says. “When we feel like we are appreciated by our boss and peers, we’re more likely to give ‘discretionary effort’ – going the extra mile, even when nobody is watching.”
Here are five simple (and cost-effective) ways to give your employees a pat on the back.
A little gratitude can go a long way toward fostering loyalty and good feeling among your staff.
It may be obvious, but say “thank you.” Make a point to walk by your employees’ work areas and regularly show appreciation for their hard work, Kruse suggests. Many bosses forget to do it, but a little gratitude can go a long way toward fostering loyalty and good feeling among your staff. If you’re not a naturally effusive person, Kruse suggests instituting a few “recognition rituals” (see the next paragraph) within your company to remind yourself (and others) to pay attention to your team’s efforts.
Recognize employees monthly. Or even weekly, says Kruse. Don’t think of employee recognition as a quarterly or annual event — that’s not often enough for employees to feel truly appreciated, he says. A few simple ways to do it: Take a minute at every staff meeting to publicly acknowledge team members who went above and beyond on a work project or customer issue in the past week or two, suggests Kruse. Or in a staff email, include a mini case study of an employee who did outstanding work in some way.
Make it about more than just metrics. It’s easy to use concrete standards like highest sales figures or fewest product defects to single out employees for special pats on the back, Kruse notes. However, many workers go the extra mile on things that don’t have measurable outcomes. “For instance, they may have worked a weekend, voluntarily pitched in to help a team member debug a software module, or other things that are still critical to a great performance culture,” he says. Be sure to show gratitude for these “softer” measures, too.
Put your appreciation in writing. Not in an email, which is expected and a bit impersonal. Instead, take time to craft a handwritten note — even a short one, suggests Kruse. “Handwritten notes are so rare — ‘Wow, she took the time to write this out on a thank-you card?!’ — that people tend to pin them up on their cube walls or keep them at home forever,” he says.
Match gifts to the effort. If you give a gift, it will be more meaningful and memorable if it’s directly tied to the employee’s sacrifice or hard work, Kruse says. For instance, you might give a paid Friday off to a team member who worked half of a Saturday, he says. Another idea: Hire a housecleaner or spring for a few lunches for employees who put in extra hours to hit a monster deadline. Or give a restaurant gift certificate to a worker who had to travel for business and missed his/her wedding anniversary. General gift cards and cash bonuses are nice, but Kruse suggests that they’re a bit impersonal and easily forgotten once they’re spent.
Employee recognition programs don’t need to be elaborate efforts that include trophies or plaques, Kruse says. Just focus on thanking your team regularly, in whatever way makes sense for your firm.
“The desire to feel appreciated is a common and powerful human need, regardless of the size of the company we work in,” he says.