Let's assume you offer your employees competitive pay and benefits--perhaps even above average--and a comfortable workplace with popular amenities. Yet your turnover rate is high. Losing talent is a costly problem.

How do you fix it?

The answer might surprise you. It's not difficult and doesn't cost very much. What is it?

You need to do a better job of showing your employees that you appreciate them.

This may sound Pollyanna, but you need to pay attention, because failure to do this is common among entrepreneurs regardless of industry.

A monster.com poll of workers and job seekers found that 90% of Americans occasionally feel underappreciated on the job and nearly 50% say they never feel appreciated. Another study from Gallup and the Families and Work Institute found that only about a third of employees are happy on the job most of the time.

Obviously, people work for a paycheck, but that's not the only reason they choose to work for you. Indeed, many studies say the paycheck is not even the most important reason your people show up every day. That's why a consistent failure to recognize their contributions and accomplishments is virtually the same as asking them to leave--so if you don't fix this, they will do exactly that, regardless of how much you pay them.

How can you show your appreciation? Start by simply saying "thank you." Giving folks a pat on the back goes a long way toward keeping up morale.

Perhaps you aren't the empathetic sort. Do it anyway. And if you can't bring yourself to compliment them, simply show interest in them. Take time to chat with individuals periodically--casually, informally--to ask about a project they're working on or ideas they might have, or to chat about their career goals and how they can achieve them. Even employees who don't think you're chummy will appreciate that you've shown interest in their thoughts and opinions.

Consider successful nonprofit organizations. They never have enough money, so they invest a lot of time and energy in recognizing their volunteers. That's a key way they retain them. Studies have shown that volunteers who are made to feel appreciated will keep donating their time without monetary compensation.

How you choose to recognize employees for their contributions depends partly on your company culture and the type of business you have. Our firm has challenges that might be familiar to you. We're a financial planning organization with more than 500 employees at 42 offices around the country, so it's hard for me to talk with every individual as often as I'd like. So my managers do it for me, and I try to show appreciation by other means too. We routinely ask for staff members' ideas and opinions, and we often give prizes or rewards--so much so that we look for excuses to do so. People love to tell you what they think; all you have to do is ask. And we're always impressed with the great comments we get. We hold themed lunches and other fun events as well as an annual event to recognize staff members for their years of service. We offer paid time off for volunteer activities, and three years ago, we took every employee and all their spouses to Walt Disney World to celebrate our 25th anniversary.

Employee recognition is most effective when it's genuine, not because it's the next person's turn. Recognize your best performers as much as possible, and the rest will see what they must do to receive such accolades.

Here are a few simple ways of showing appreciation that don't cost much:

  • a personalized thank-you noting specifically how the employee has helped the company
  • a lunch or dinner to celebrate a team accomplishment
  • on-the-spot verbal or written feedback for excellent work
  • a relevant gift, perhaps something that can help the person do their job even better
  • a formal mechanism for employees to voice their ideas, insights and observations
  • a formal thank-you letter

Your employees put a lot of time and effort into ensuring that your product or service is of the highest quality. Show them the recognition they deserve and, instead of a high turnover rate, you'll be able to retain a motivated, talented and engaged workforce.