5 Strategies to Build Happy, Motivated Employees on a Tight Business Budget

As cash flow woes continue to hound many small business owners, keeping employees motivated and happy can be especially challenging.

But all is not lost. Here are 5 strategies to boost employee moral even when operating on a tight budget.

1. Recognize the Value of Your Employees

The first step to building happy employees is to first realize and internalize that your employees are by and large one of your biggest assets. To the extent that you can set the personal goals and wants of your employees as a fundamental driver of your business decisions, the greater the chance that your business will flourish.

In my previous post, I mentioned the impact employee attitude had on the success of Groupon promotions- the more satisfied the employees were with the promotion, the more satisfying the experience had by the attending customers, and ultimately the more successful the event.

In truth, there is nothing surprising about the find. It's simple human nature. When those around us are happy, we tend to feel happier, and the same is true of the opposite.

But employee satisfaction goes beyond increasing sales through customer interaction. Happy employees are also more efficient, more productive and are more likely to actively contribute to the success of their employers. (For more information on this topic, see this recent research paper by the Society for Human Resource Management) The bottom line: happy employees will positively affect your bottom line.

2. Know What Your Employees Want

Small business owners can't overlook the impact that worker compensation has on an employee's attitude toward his or her job. Employees want to feel that they are being fairly compensated for their input. A case in point, according to those surveyed in the 2010 Global Workforce Study by professional services company Towers Watsons, the most important factor in choosing which business to work for was a competitive base pay.

But it is precisely in this area that many small businesses struggle. Where cash flow and profit margins run tight, employee base pay, bonuses, and other benefits are typically limited.

Fortunately, compensation is only one piece of a bigger picture. According to the above study, after base pay, employees want a stimulating position, with some degree of flexibility and opportunity for advancement. In other words, employees want the work itself to be fulfilling. In these areas small businesses actually have a leg up on bigger corporations. Smaller companies in general are inherently more flexible, have more "cross-training" opportunities, and can give employees a greater sense of ownership (in regards to their company) as well as the feeling that their actions make a difference.

3. Foster Good Communication

Needless to say, you will never fully know what your employees want nor how they are feeling about their jobs if you never ask them. Fostering effective communication is an essential element in maintaining job satisfaction and employee moral, and it also may significantly affect job performance1. Good communication practices go beyond explaining company policies and procedure, the process includes actively offering feedback to your employees and soliciting it in return, and it also includes involving your employees in key decisions- especially those that will directly affect them.

4. Encourage the Growth and Development of Your Workers

When it comes to building happy employees, "build" is the operative word. It is in this area that business owners and their managers must also assume a leadership role, because as mentioned above working to bring out the best in your employees will have positive ramifications on your bottom line and your business.

There are numerous ways that small business owners can help their employees attain their personal and professional goals. These include providing access to: "cross-training" opportunities (i.e. learning about a different area or function in the business), additional training programs and seminars that may add value to the employee and/or the business as a whole, opportunities for advancement, and opportunities to affect company policy or procedure.

5. Show Appreciation with a Personal Touch

Showing your appreciation does not have to include lavish gifts or expensive company-sponsored trips- especially if there is little money available for such things. As the old saying goes: it's the thought that counts. But I would add here, the feelings also count. Small business owners need to get the place of truly appreciating the input their employees make, as mentioned above. Once that place is reached then even small tokens of appreciation, such as handwritten notes, public recognition of achievements, small financial rewards, and even verbal compliments will go along way towards making employees feel valued and their contributions appreciated.

In short, investing in your employees' happiness and job satisfaction need not break the bank. The biggest and most influential investment you as a small business owner can make is the personal desire and effort you put in to making them feel valuable and appreciated in the first place.

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