Employee Appreciation: How to Motivate and Retain Team Members

Small business owners know that their livelihood depends on employee productivity, and motivation is a game whose rules are constantly changing. Pay incentives get people in the door, and the threat of being fired will get them to consistently achieve minimum expectations, but you need more out of them than that! If you want people to stay, to care, and to go to bat for you, then you need to apply a more holistic leadership approach.


10 Commandments of Leadership

Dwight D. Eisenhower said that leadership is the art of getting people to do what you want, because they want to do it. The following are ten time-tested principles for maintaining morale, improving performance, and reducing turnover.

  1. Thou shalt show appreciation for the behavior thou wantest more of
  2. Thou shalt praise in public, that thine employees may see the fruits of doing well
  3. Thou shalt correct in private. Correct not in public, lest thy employee hate and revile against thee
  4. Thou shalt cultivate an identity of excellence, that thine employees may believe that they are excellent, that they might behave accordingly
  5. Thou shalt hire no employee, lest that employee be humble. Prideful employees will verily resist correction
  6. Thou shalt hire no employee, lest that employee be hungry. Hungry employees will verily work their tails off for thee
  7. Thou shalt hire no employee, lest that employee be smart. Thou mayest teach skills, but thou canst not fix stupid
  8. Thou shalt not tolerate gossip, neither shalt thou tolerate theft, neither lying, neither laziness, nor truancy, nor insubordination. For the toleration of these crimes will bring upon the leader the judgments of the team
  9. Thou shalt treat employees as thyself. Loyalty is verily given before it canst be expected
  10. Thou shalt constantly reiterate the “why” of thy business, that thine employees shall behave as crusaders for thy cause. Verily, every employee wants to believe they are making a difference

With those principles in mind, here are some creative ways to show appreciation to employees. Not all of these are appropriate for every work environment, but they are actionable tactics to but the 10 commandments of leadership into practice.


Make Them Honorary CEO For a Day

They wouldn’t have to wield any real power; it’s the gesture that matters. Naming an employee CEO for the day, even if with limited authority, can be a huge morale boost to the entire crew. It could make the lucky one-day CEO feel more appreciated than almost anything else could, and it would make all his friends still on their jobs feel great — both about their colleague, and about themselves.


Lunch with the CEO

The boss of a major corporation couldn’t personally sit down to lunch with every individual employee because it would probably take up every lunch. For a small business, however, such an occasion isn’t likely to come up often. Lunch with the CEO could be a wonderful gesture. Alternatively, team lunches are a great way to build team unity and increase morale.


Order Themed Company Apparel

Giving out free apparel with the company logo is usually as far as many companies go at a celebration. T-shirts, hats, and other such articles aren’t exactly expensive, however. It wouldn’t cost too much to order up apparel with both the company logo and the name of an honored employee. 


Special Parking Spots

Employees that go above and beyond can be recognized with a dedicated parking spot. The coveted spot should be reserved for team members that hit certain metrics or contribute in special ways to profits. Reserving a parking spot is cheaper than a cash bonus, making it an ideal tactic for cash-poor companies.


Time-off Coupons and Work-From-Home

If employee performance is easily measured by daily or weekly contributions, consider allowing work-from-home opportunities to high performers. Not all employees prefer to work from home, but they might appreciate having the option. Many companies are moving to Results-Only Work Environments, and some firms have seen increased performance and motivation.


Create a Program for Peer Recognition

It’s one thing for the company to show appreciation for VIP team members, and quite another for coworkers to do it. Putting a program together to allow everyone the opportunity to find a few good things to say about a coworker should be something any company should try year-round, for every employee. Peer recognition sometimes matters even more than recognition from management. Celebrate success.


A Permanent Plaque

Employees of small businesses often wear several hats. Those who have been with you from the beginning are likely to have contributed enormously to company growth. For an employee who has helped build the company, a permanent plaque would not be excessive or out of place. The company forever benefits from the employee’s lifelong contributions, and a lifelong plaque would be an excellent way of expressing gratitude.


Grow the Team

Creating a culture of competence and an institutional identity of excellence begins with the hiring process. Purge your team of toxic personalities and work to replace their contribution. Look for team members who are humble, hungry, and smart. Reach out to online and offline networks for a qualified candidate. Get a social media expert to drum up some hype for the position. Outsourcing the advertising process to an expert will help senior management avoid the hassle and time-commitment of hiring.


Carrots and sticks only go so far in employee motivation. Incentives will get an employee in the door, but that won’t keep them, or motivate them to go the extra mile for the team. Showing appreciation, growing team unity, and leading by example will do far more to take your team from good to great.

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