You'd like your employees to be loyal and hardworking -- to put forth their best effort every day. Treating your employees well can go a long way toward motivating them to do a great job.
Paying a decent salary and giving generous raises can help meet your employees' material needs so that they'll be motivated to keep the paychecks coming. But money isn't everything. Intangible benefits, such as good working conditions and flexible hours, can also affect your employees' attitudes and help motivate them to put forth extra time and effort.
As a small employer, you may be unable to offer many of the work/life balance perks -- such as job sharing and paid time off policies -- that many mid-sized to large employers can use to lure workers. Still, the tried and true techniques mentioned here can help motivate your employees to work hard and well, and stay loyal for years to come.
Perhaps most important in determining whether your employees will go the extra mile is how effective you are in meeting their emotional needs. Everyone has a need to be recognized and appreciated, a desire to feel that their work has meaning, and a wish to be treated with dignity and respect.
Many people also strive to improve themselves -- to learn, do more, and experience personal growth. If you can tap into these basic emotional needs and help satisfy them, your employees are likely to put more energy and thought into the job.
By taking notice of an employee's efforts and letting the employee know when he or she is doing an especially good job, you'll reinforce that behavior -- and the employee is likely to repeat and build on the traits you want to encourage. The beautiful thing is that you can recognize and reward an employee's good work at little or no cost.
Something as simple as telling an employee that he or she is doing a good job can motivate peak performance -- and may even make more clear to you ways you can refine and expand current work duties.
You can recognize and reward excellent performance by giving a small or inexpensive gift such as a plant or a basket of fruit, accompanied by a handwritten note of appreciation.
To get extra mileage, consider having the gift delivered to the employee's home. That way, the employee will feel enhanced esteem in the eyes of a spouse, partner, children, or other family members. He or she can proudly display your gift and bask in the admiration of others. And the gift will convey a clear message: "You do good work and are valued outside the house, as well as at home."
These small gifts can also be personalized. If an employee is a jazz fan, for example, a John Coltrane CD might be a suitable reward -- again accompanied with a note of thanks. For a sports fan, tickets to a baseball or football game might do the trick. Or for a gourmand, consider a gift certificate for dinner for two at a fine restaurant. Here again, the employee's achievement can be celebrated with a friend or loved one. Also, consider a gift for the employee's child -- another way for the employee to spread the good cheer.
After an employee has worked hard to complete a project or dealt with an especially stressful situation, you might give the employee a day or two off -- with full pay, of course.
Ask an employee for suggestions to improve working conditions. If the answer is better lighting, a more efficient computer, or a chance to work at home one day a week, you can often reward the employee by following through on the request.
Be clear with your employees about what you expect. Spend time showing them the ropes. Otherwise, an employee may not intuit how you want the job done.
Good communication goes both ways. Listen to what your employees say. Listening by itself demonstrates recognition and respect. And don't be surprised if your employees come up with some ideas you can put to use. That's always good, because it will encourage your employees to come up with more ideas. If you show confidence in their abilities to learn and grow into the job, you will be pleased when they meet -- and even exceed -- your expectations.
But when an employee isn't meeting expectations, communicate clearly how the performance is sub par, and help the employee come up to your standards. Chances are, the employee wants to succeed and will work hard to avoid being labeled a bad worker.
Many employees value the chance to expand their skills and take on more responsibility. You can take the time to teach them yourself, or send them to a workshop or seminar. Back at work, your employees will be motivated to try new skills -- and your business will bear the benefits.
Most employees also value autonomy: being entrusted with tasks they can carry out on their own without close supervision. Your employees are sure to be motivated and strive to do well if you delegate responsible work to them.
Finally, assure your employees that nothing bad will happen if they make a mistake. Everyone who makes decisions will make mistakes now and then, and we all learn from our mistakes. Your employees are likely to be motivated and want to earn the trust that you've placed in them. But use discretion in delegating. You don't want to create a sink-or-swim situation in which one mistake spells disaster for an employee or your business.
You can and should point out any aspects of an employee's work that need improvement, but always put it in terms of the job, not the person. Personal criticism or insults will likely cause the employee to become resentful or angry.
For complete information for small employers on how to find, interview and manage employees, see Hiring Your First Employee: A Step-by-Step Guide, by Fred S. Steingold (Nolo).