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Simple and Cheap Ideas to Improve Employee Retention & Morale in the Work Place

Updated on October 16, 2013
Lily Rose profile image

We all have opinions. I like to think I have a good moral compass and that's where my opinions originate. I hope you enjoy my thoughts.

Managers, hear this: It does not take much to motivate and make your employees happy. Happy employees means good employee morale. Good employee morale means a positive working environment. A positive working environment means increased productivity. It’s really a simple concept, but managers sometimes have a hard time wrapping their brain around it.

Respect is one of the best, and least expensive, ways to motivate employees.

I once had a government job that was an awesome place to work because the management was involved with the employees and did a number of things to keep us happy and we really enjoyed working and getting results that made us and management look good.

What Happened

Then 9-11 happened and some government agencies, including the one I worked for, got turned upside down and all around. Management positions were taken over by individuals who had no idea what they were doing, let alone how to treat employees. Also, employees became managers and let the title go to their heads and only worried about themselves. Management started to nit-pick. I actually got sent home one day for wearing open-toed shoes, which was suddenly not allowed even though I’d been wearing those same shoes without a single comment for several years.

One new manager decided that he no longer could be ‘friends’ with those below him and made it his mission to walk around every day – all day – looking every employee up and down and finding things wrong with their wardrobe – men were reprimanded if they wore a polo style shirt that was a little longer in the back and not tucked in. Yes, this is the same manager that sent me home for the shoes! This is just one simple example among many. What ended up happening at that office was employee morale was low, very low, and productivity was at a minimum – most employees did only the minimum amount of work necessary and nothing more. I could go on and on, but this article is not about manager-bashing my previous job, it’s about helping managers retain happy employees so they don’t experience what I touched on above.

Why Communicate With Employees

I wrote an article recently on improving customer loyalty through customer relations management. In that article I mentioned that one of the first steps to assuring you have happy customers is to make sure you have happy employees – after all, your employees are your front line. In this article I will expand on this thought and provide some simple tips to increase employee morale and improve employee retention.

Employees value open communication, employee recognition and involving personnel in decision making. Studies show that simple employee incentive ideas work just as well as handing out high-priced gifts when you want to let workers know how much they’re appreciated and improve employee loyalty and morale. You don’t have to be too creative to come up with a few ideas of incentives to foster happy employees.

Make your employees happy and they may even look forward to coming to work on monday!
Make your employees happy and they may even look forward to coming to work on monday!

A Few Ideas for Employee Incentives and Increased Morale:

  • Say “thank you” or “job well done.”  Call the employee into your office, or stop by their work area to say it for something great they’ve done recently.  Simple, but it can go a long way.  Employees do respond to these types of “at-a-boys.”
  • Depending on the type of business you are, you can create a VIP parking spot to recognize an outstanding employee and let them use it for a month.
  • A nice thank you for a job well done could be a gift card for lunch – enough for two people to eat – and it doesn’t have to be to a fancy place.
  • For small, but important, achievements give out small tokens of appreciation such as movie tickets or a small gift card for coffee.
  • Free time.  Everyone likes to have paid time off.  So, let an employee know they’ve been doing a great job and they can take half a day off this Friday afternoon.
  • You could even do something silly such as a contest by placing a jar in the break room or on a receptionist’s desk, fill it full of thumbtacks and let employees guess how many there are.  Give a small prize to the closest guesser.
  • Who doesn’t enjoy free food?  Hold a pizza party on a Friday afternoon or bring in bagels one morning.  This is simple and low-cost, but will go a long way to show you’re appreciation of your employees.

Give Them What They Want

As you can see from the above suggestions, showing your workers some well-deserved appreciation can go a long way to improving productivity, and it can be done at a reasonable expense to you, the employer.  Studies show that simple employee incentives work just as well as handing out raises.  Remember, give employees things they can use as incentives.

These things can be fun for employees, but they are more fun for managers when they know the incentive programs were a success.  Communicate with your employees and use surveys – make them unanimous – to gather input as to how the incentives you are implementing are working.  Typically, management develops incentive programs that they think will drive employee behaviors to achieve company goals, but often they are based on management’s perception of their employees’ desires.  The problem is that management is usually out of touch with employees desires.  Surveys consistently indicate that employees are most motivated by shows of appreciation for their work rather than monetary gifts.

Be Emotionally Invested

When a manager is emotionally invested in their employees, both inside and outside the office, they will have genuine ties to their employees’ success.  Messages will be delivered more clearly because people are more inclined to listen when they know the person on the other side of the conversation cares.

The success of a business becomes a shared goal when there’s clear communication and respect. Employees who feel recognized and truly cared about will show a stronger desire to do what it takes to help their company succeed. 

Think Outside the Box

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal showcased a company who invested $600 to create a 1,500 square-foot garden outside its office.  The employees were allowed to take home their pick of 10 herbs and 22 vegetables.  This benefit allowed the employees to save on their grocery bills.  Employee-sponsored gardens can be a cheap and easy way to boost employee morale, as the recession motivates individuals to trim their grocery budgets.

Tough times will test employee dedication and only the best will stick it out. Ensure you’ve done all you can to keep enthusiasm high, even while the going gets tough.  This will ensure that everyone wins. 


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    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      9 years ago from A Coast

      Avesel - exactly, and yet another reason to keep your employees happy!

    • Avesel profile image


      9 years ago

      Please don't forget that every one of your employees is a salesperson for your company. When they talk about the company after work, are they speaking positive or negative things?

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      9 years ago from A Coast

      Thank you for your comment, Moravecglobal. What you say is indeed what things have turned into. The "Operational Excellence initiative" that you touched upon is a superb example and - wow! - I can't believe that is what they've done with it!

      You also hit upon a concept that is foreign to most - "...the job or position is a shared situation." If all employers and employees felt that way, things would be much different, and for the better.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment here.

    • Moravecglobal profile image


      9 years ago from California

      Businesses and Universities are into a phase of creative disassembly where reinvention and adjustments are constant. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being shed by Lockheed Martin, Chevron, Sam’s Club, Wells Fargo Bank, HP, Starbucks etc. and the state, counties and cities. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing employees, staff, faculty and part-time lecturers through “Operational Excellence (OE) initiative”: 1,000 fired. Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee.

      Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised work security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees fitting in, accepting lower wages, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee work and careers, even if they want to. Senior managements paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ and are now forced to break the implied contract with their employees – a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled.

      Jettisoned employees are finding that their hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.

      What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other?

      The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need – skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability. The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor.

      Let there be light!

    • Aussieteacher profile image


      10 years ago from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

      So true. Any company with a problem with staff retention had best ask the staff about it. Generally they know and can often explain it well. Good hub.

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      10 years ago from A Coast

      That's right - The Golden Rule! I remember being taught the golden rule in grade school, I believe it was. It should be heeded by the masses - wouldn't this world be a better place?

    • DanDnAZ profile image

      Dan Demland 

      10 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Your words ring SOOOO true. It all comes down to treating other the way you want to be treated. GREAT thoughts!!!!

    • dusanotes profile image


      10 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Good head on your shoulders, Lily Rose. I once managed a company with 400 employees. Why did they stay with this company, because of the personal touch, number one; and because we offered plenty of perks including Friday afternoon off at noon, great health care for little money for the employee, movie tickets, baseball tickets, parties and recognition meetings, good training, and a chance to move up the ladder and make more money. Nice Hub. Don White

    • suziecat7 profile image


      10 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I agree with breakfast - happy employees are better employees. Nice job.

    • Lily Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Lily Rose 

      10 years ago from A Coast

      Well, thank you, pop! It's a topic I've wanted to talk about for a while - since that last job of mine!

      I should send this to my old supervisor!

    • breakfastpop profile image


      10 years ago

      AlI can say is incredibly smart hub.


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