It's... the little things that keep them happy.

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A tale of two businesses:

Business A gives away gift cards to their employees every quarter - as long as the company is doing well. So every three months, like clockwork, the HR manager sends out an email to everyone and asks them if they want a $25 gift card to Moe's or Sticky Fingers, to Target or Publix, to the movie theater or the concert arena downtown.

Number of employees: 300.
Cost: $30,000 per year ($100/employee)
Return on investment: Zero. The employees kind of appreciate the gesture, but it is meaningless. The impact on their morale, productivity, sense of being appreciated is non-existent. It just feels like the company is running through the motions. It is essentially throwing money away.

Business B doesn't have a set pattern of gift giving. Instead, the owners/managers show their appreciation in a more human way:

- Genuinely congratulating employees when they do something right. No fanfare. No corny award presentations. No plaques or applause. Just subtle, heartfelt, personal ataboys. "Hey Jack, you handled that really well." "Hey Janice, thanks for taking care of that for me. I appreciate it." "Hey Chris, quick thinking today. That was a really great idea."
- Asking employees for advice/involvement regarding minor and major business decisions.
- Occasionally writing them thank you notes and planting pieces of their favorite candy in their desk drawers.
- Treating employees more like colleagues and friends than commodities.

Little things. Real little things.

Number of employees: 50.
Cost: Less than $20/employee per year.
Return on Investment: Very high. Employees feel genuinely appreciated and valued. Respect and allegiance to managers and company are consistently high. Employees feel empowered and responsible for the success of their company. Employees positive attitude towards the company they work for turns them into de-facto brand ambassadors for customers and potential hires.

When employees feel valued instead of taken for granted, when they feel appreciated instead of exploited, when they actually like their managers as people, what do you think the effect on the company they work for and brand they help strengthen will be?

Real brand ambassadors - like great friends - can't be bought. If your strategy for retaining great employees is to put money in their pocket, remember this: There is always going to be someone out there who will be willing to give them more money than you... or offer something more valuable than... money.

Treat people well, treat them with care and genuine attention, and they will move mountains for you. It doesn't matter if they're your customers or your employees.

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