As the boss, you don't get much applause on a day-to-day basis. Unless you've hired a circle of yes men to sing your praises, life as an entrepreneur means receiving very little recognition for something you do very well. “Thank you” are two words you're just not accustomed to hearing often.
If you're like me, you don't need constant pats on the back to keep running your business and always reaching for the next big goal. But your staff probably isn't like you. The thrill of reaching (and exceeding) goals with limited resources isn't what keeps them coming in every day. It's those two little words that can make the difference between employees walking out the door or staying a little late to go above and beyond.
The truth is that recognizing your employees for all the contributions they make to your company is one of the most important tasks you can do every day. Simple, sincere “thank yous” are one of the most valuable retention methods you have at your disposal, and they don't cost a thing.
According to a 2007 Florida State University study, 40% of employees leave their jobs due to “bad bosses,” not the desire to switch industries, grow in their careers, or earn more money. You're probably thinking that not recognizing employee achievement does not necessarily a bad boss make, especially if you've watched Horrible Bosses. But the number-2 reason people ditch their bad bosses is the result of supervisors who “failed to give them credit when due.”
I don't know about you, but in this tough economy when workers nationwide are doing so much extra work without additional compensation, my company can't afford to replace talented employees simply because my managers and I aren't taking the time to acknowledge our employees' dedication and achievements. So I start with thank you and then make it stick by making it personal. Handwritten notes recognizing extra-effort, anniversaries and birthdays go a long way. You’ll know it when you start to see them pop up on your employees’ desks and bulletin boards – proudly posted for their coworkers to see.
If you have or are thinking about a formal recognition program that includes additional cash incentives – try personalizing those as well. You will get far more bang for your gratitude buck by making it memorable. Let’s face it -- if you give your employee a $500 bonus, $350 will end up paying for groceries, bills or other ordinary expenses. But what if instead, you knew your employee loved Kenny Chesney and ordered a limo and front row seats for her and her spouse to Chesney’s new concert? Suddenly you’ve done more than say thanks – you’ve created a memory that shows you know and care about her. As your mother once said – it’s the thought that counts. A thoughtful, personal “thank you” will have a lasting lift that will garner a greater level of loyalty.
Don’t stop there. You can also personalize team “thank yous” in a cost-effective way. Your customer care team doing a great job? Bring in breakfast – or better yet, make them breakfast! It is a great way to start the day and by serving them you are clearly demonstrating that you care.
Again, increasing morale and productivity doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. At SurePayroll, we say thanks in a number of ways like:
• handwriting personal notes.
• sharing letters of praise with the entire company.
• personalizing quarterly recognition and gift certificates for outstanding employee contributions.
• catering lunches and providing desk-side delivery of snacks such as ice cream, popcorn or candy bars during our busiest payroll-processing days. Sometimes I do the serving!
• celebrating employees at an annual awards ceremony thanking employees for their hard work and honoring the best new mistake.
Like the golden rule – know your customers, you should know your employees. Words matter – especially simple words like thank you. To help retain employees, boost morale, and inspire innovation add that personal touch to your “thank you” and make it matter even more!
MICHAEL ALTER is president of SurePayroll, America’s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University. @michaelalter