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Show Them The Love When You Can't Show Them The Money: Five Affordable Ways To Boost Employee Happiness, Loyalty, And Motivation

No matter how much they want to reward their employees, many leaders just don’t have the financial resources to give out much-deserved raises and bonuses. Fortunately, according to Todd Patkin, you don’t need to spend a cent to show your people beyond a shadow of a doubt that you care about them and appreciate their hard work.

To say the least, the past few years haven’t been the best for business. We’ve weathered a brutal recession, and most of us aren’t out of the woods yet. What’s more, it’s not only finances that have taken a hit — morale is suffering, too. In the battle for survival, many organizations have developed perpetually stressful atmospheres in which employees are asked to do more with less — often with little thanks. In many cases, it’s not that employers want to shaft their people; they simply can’t afford not to cut hours and positions, and they definitely don’t have the funds for raises and bonuses.

Fortunately, says Todd Patkin, you don’t need a single dime to make your people happy at work or to show them just how much you care about them and appreciate their efforts.

“People will never admit it, but money is not the thing they desire most from their work. Instead, showing appreciation, respect, and, yes, even love are the three most important ways to make your people feel great about their work,” points out Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $18.00, “And happy, engaged employees are the single best way to impact your company’s bottom line.”

Patkin isn’t just a talking head — he speaks from experience. For nearly two decades, he was instrumental in leading his family’s auto parts business, Autopart International, to new heights until it was finally bought by Advance Auto Parts in 2006 for more money than he ever dreamed possible. During that time, Patkin made it his number-one priority to always put his people and their happiness first.

“As a leader, I quickly found that if my team was content and their work environment was a positive one, they would be more engaged and motivated, and they would truly care about our organization’s future,” he elaborates. “Plus, it was even more rewarding for me to see that my employees were happy — and often even ecstatic — than it was for me that we were making money.”

Patkin adds, “It’s more important now than ever before to show your employees love and appreciation, because we’re in the midst of an economic downturn, so you probably won’t have the money to give big raises and bonuses.”

Furthermore, Patkin adds that if your employees are perpetually stressed out, they’ll be less motivated and more disengaged. And when they’re unhappy, they’ll do only what they must to avoid chastisement…and you’ll lose money in the long term. Also, when the economy turns around, they’ll be more likely to look for a new job elsewhere.

“If there is one thing I would like to tell all leaders at all levels and in all industries, it’s that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain — including an improved bottom line — by making your organization as happy a place to work as possible.”

Read on for five of Patkin’s show-the-love strategies that you can use to say “thanks for a job well done!” to any employee, any time…without spending a cent:

Send “love” notes . Writing and sending a thank-you note is standard practice when you receive a gift. And what is great, thorough work other than a gift from your people to you? When you notice that an individual has done an excellent job or has achieved an important goal, send a specific handwritten (not typed!) note conveying your most sincere appreciation and admiration. This will take only one sheet of paper and five minutes out of your day…but it’ll make a lasting impression on your employee.

“When you’re a leader, you’re busy and often overwhelmed,” Patkin acknowledges. “It’s understandable that you might overlook saying the words ‘thank you,’ much less writing them. Remember, though, that positive reinforcement and sincere gratitude will increase the respect your team has for you and will improve their opinion of your entire organization. Also, it will encourage them to likewise say ‘thank you’ more often to their own subordinates within your company. Think of writing what I call ‘love notes’ as a way to invest in your company’s atmosphere and future!”

• Distribute inspiration
. Our society tends to think of work as a place of drudgery, obligation, and boredom, as exemplified in the now-iconic movie Office Space. People certainly don’t think of receiving inspiration and rejuvenation between nine and five. According to Patkin, though, buoying your team’s spirits should be one of your daily goals. If you help them to see the world as a sunnier place and to improve their attitudes and ways of thinking about their entire lives, their professional and personal productivity will increase too.

“If you run across a quotation or story that inspires you, don’t keep it to yourself—pass it along to an employee, and perhaps, if appropriate, also mention that the quote or anecdote reminded you of him and his great attitude,” suggests Patkin. “Alternatively, you might consider sending out a quote or lesson of the day. Yes, the idea might sound hokey at first, but I firmly believe that most people vastly underestimate the power of feeding their minds with inspirational and educational material.”

• Tell success stories
. Even if they brush off praise or downplay their achievements, everybody loves to be recognized and complimented. When someone in your organization has done something great, tell her that you noticed her outstanding work, and tell the rest of the team, too! Whether correctly or incorrectly, many employees feel that their leaders take them for granted and only point out their mistakes, so make it your daily mission to prove that perception wrong.

“When I was at Autopart International and I saw that one of my people did something noteworthy, I made sure that everyone else knew about it by sending the story about her accomplishment around in an email to the entire chain,” Patkin recalls. “I could literally see the glow on the highlighted employee’s face for weeks, and I also noticed that many of the other team members now worked even harder too in order to earn a write-up themselves. Remember to always praise in public as ‘loudly as possible,’ and conversely, criticize only in private!”

• Identify stars . According to Patkin, identifying stars is taking the concept behind telling success stories to the next level. Yes, recognize achievements whenever you see them, but also make celebrating your stars a regular event. Sure, some team members will roll their eyes at “Employee of the Week/Month” programs, but you can rest assured that no one is going to turn down this honor.

“Instead of singling out just one person, you might even consider recognizing multiple individuals every month,” Patkin suggests. “For example, I always wrote about several store managers in our ‘Managers of the Month’ newsletter. Later, I included assistant managers, store supervisors, store salespeople, and our drivers in this letter of champions as well. My profiles for each star would often be a full page in length, lauding both their professional achievements and wonderful personal qualities. The newsletters themselves were often thirty pages in length when finished. But I know many within the team loved to read these personalized recognitions each month, and they motivated lots of the employees to work even harder to earn a spot on the pages themselves.”

• Make it a family affair . Whenever possible, engage your employees’ families when praising them. Having a leader validate all the hours each team member spends at work will be remembered far longer than a bonus (really!). Plus, when spouses and kids know what Mom or Dad does at work and are “on board” with it, your employee’s performance will be buoyed by support from the ones he or she loves the most.

“For example, if an employee did something really tremendous, I would call his home, generally trying to get the answering machine and not a person,” Patkin shares. “Then I’d leave a voicemail like this one:

“Hi, (name of spouse and kids), this is Todd Patkin from Autopart International where your husband and dad works. I just want to tell you that your husband and dad is the most incredible, wonderful, amazing person in the whole world. He just broke our Nashua, New Hampshire, store’s all-time sales record. Guys, that is incredible!! So, please, kids, do me a favor. When your dad comes home tonight, everyone run up and give him a huge hug and tell him how proud you are of him and how great he is. And, (name of spouse), I hope you too will give him a big hug and a wonderful kiss to make sure he knows how much you love him and how much he is appreciated for all he’s doing for our company. Thanks, guys.

“And in fact, years later, many employees whose families received these phone calls told me that although they didn’t remember how much their bonus checks were for that year, that extra-special homecoming was still clearly etched in their memories.” “Trust me, showing people love, appreciation, and respect trump money just about every time when it comes to building long-term motivation and boosting employee morale and loyalty,” concludes Patkin. “When you take the time to make your employees feel valued, they’ll know that you care about them on a more personal level, and they’ll be much happier at work. And in the end, when you’ve achieved a really positive atmosphere at work and the improved bottom line that will surely come from it, you’ll feel amazing too!”

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