Step one? Be a good boss. Here are five things to start doing now.
A motivated employee is a valuable employee--and also among the toughest to find. According to a study conducted by Dale Carnegie Training, disengaged workers outnumber engaged workers by a pretty significant margin. Only 45 percent of managers and supervisors and 23 percent of people at other levels qualify as "engaged," meaning they feel enthusiastic, empowered, inspired, and confident in their jobs.
The biggest influence on employee engagement is dissatisfaction with an immediate supervisor. People who have gripes with their bosses have an 80 percent chance of not being engaged at work, the study found.
Roxanne Peplow, a business owner and professional development instructor at Computer Systems Institute, a technical school with campuses in and around Chicago, says there are five key things you can do to be a great boss and hence, foster happy and productive employees.
1. Use your manners.
When people feel appreciated, they are happier, more productive workers. Saying "hello" to employees when you get to work as well as saying "please" and "thank you" are easy things to do but carry a lot of weight when it comes to making people feel valued.
"When people of upper management or owners come in, employees can feel anxious or slighted if not greeted properly or even at all. Approachability of management is a huge must for employees. It humanizes and endears them," Peplow says.
Considering the hours your employees spend at work--often more than what they get with family--it's essential to tell them when they've excelled on a project or gone above and beyond the call of duty.
I can pull a perfect example of this from my own career history. Remember Y2K? I was on a small communications team that spent New Year's Eve 1999 in a locked-down IT department with a satellite phone at the ready. The CEO of the big company I worked for later sought me out in person to thank me and give me a letter of commendation as well as a check for $2,000--all of which made me feel appreciated, thankful for my job and motivated to continue doing good work.
"It's like catching people doing something good instead of looking for the things to complain about," Peplow says.
3. Encourage having fun on the job.
Work doesn't have to be a four-letter word, Peplow says. She advises holding employee events that have nothing to do with work, but rather are geared solely on letting off steam, having fun and building team camaraderie.
"It shows that you care about them and their well-being. It shows you appreciate the work that they do and not because you're trying to do some company-focused event," she says.
4. Communicate clearly, consistently, and often.
Communication is integral to any relationship, including those at work. Ideally, your employees will be crystal clear about what you expect from them and receive frequent feedback regarding how they're doing in meeting goals, not to mention understand and buy into the company's vision.
"If an employee seems lost then you should ask them if they need help. A well-timed pep talk is also very well received, and often induces more open communication," Peplow says.
For more on this topic, read the Inc. guide How to Communicate With Employees, which suggests that while there are lots of ways to facilitate employee communication, it's important that you are intentional about initiating conversations that are both informal and have a specific purpose as well as both one-on-one and held in a group. What helps is putting communication on the calendar, such as a stand-up meeting at the same time every day or an hour-long Q&A session held every quarter.
You might also check out the San Francisco start-up 15Five. Its software acts as a communications backbone for companies by giving employees the opportunity to spend 15 minutes a week writing about their successes, challenges, ideas, and morale in a report that only takes a manager five minutes to read.
"If an employee writes something to a manager, and that gets passed on to an executive, and that gets passed to the CEO, and the CEO responds, then all four people are involved in that conversation," 15Five CEO David Hassell recently explained in How Patagonia's Roving CEO Stays in the Loop.
5. Offer fantastic benefits.
You can't underestimate how important benefits are to employee contentment and retention, whether it's health insurance, paid parking, free lunches, generous vacation policies, or a great 401(k) plan. That's why companies in Silicon Valley--where finding and retaining genius talent is a big deal--go overboard giving employees all those things and much more.
Companies like Google, Facebook, Evernote, Airbnb, and Zynga offer perks such as subsidized housekeeping, free haircuts, legal advice, travel assistance, and dry cleaning not to mention the option to bring your dog to work and even, in Google's case, an employee death benefit through which a spouse or partner receives half the employee's salary for 10 years after his or her death.
The thing to remember is that generosity begets loyalty, which gets people wanting to earn their keep.
And don't forget about ongoing training; Peplow says it's huge with workers.
"You want your staff to be on top of their games and if you invest in them then they're going to keep their investment with you. If you keep providing them with training or certifications, something to keep them educated in their fields, then they know you care about their well-being. They'll feel valued as a person and then they'll be less likely to go someplace else," she says.
CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech startup community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com. @salubriousdish