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We think we know what our employees want.

In order to keep employees happy, we need to offer competitive wages and benefits. Sounds simple, right?

Wrong.

A recent study by Accenture reports that a whopping 43 percent of the workforce cites "lack of recognition" as the reason for their unhappiness.

Read between the lines. It’s more than recognition — employees want to feel valued by their leaders. They spend the majority of their week in the office. It is their home away from home, so make the office environment feel that way.

Google employees enjoy perks such as game rooms and on-site cafes. Other organizations offer child care services within the walls of their buildings. These powerful perks keep employees happy and attrition rates low.

Is a simple pat on the back enough? Should you lease the building next door and serve gourmet meals five days a week? You’d like to mirror the perks of these great companies, but your budget is tight and options are limited.

No worries. I recently spent time with an executive and friend, Erin Housley, who offered a unique approach to achieving this goal on a tight budget. From her, I learned that with a little time and innovation you can help each individual feel valued without breaking the bank.

Here are six no-cost options to consider:

1. Implement a loyalty program with local retailers.

On their lunch break, your employees flock to restaurants near your office. On their way home, they stop by a local retailer for a quick shopping trip. These businesses thrive on purchases from your workforce, so develop a loyalty program and ask them to join you. Perhaps they will offer a 10 percent discount when your employee shows a company ID. Maybe they will offer weekly specials to your team. Let them know you’ll develop regular communication with your personnel announcing these deals. All they have to do is open their doors and sell their product. It’s a win-win that doesn’t gouge your budget.

2. Establish family fun discounts.

Chances are your employees work to provide a living for their families, and those families are their highest priority. Show them you care by partnering with local movie theatres, bowling alleys, pools and arcades to offer discounts for the entire family to enjoy. A few phone calls and partnerships, and you’ve demonstrated you recognize and support their personal priorities.

3. Partner with local service providers.

Do you know someone who could use a 30-minute massage to reduce stress? Someone who makes a side trip on their way home to pick up dry cleaning or get their car detailed? Everyone can benefit from extra time in their day. If you have an extra office, or space in your parking lot, then you can bring these amenities to your employees. Providers will be happy to bring their services to you if business is likely. Your workforce will be willing to pay for these services they use often, and pleased with the extra time you’ve saved them.

4. Start a book exchange.

Have readers in the office? Your workforce likely has a robust home library. Most have been read once and forgotten. Consider locating a bookshelf or two in a quiet corner of your building and provide your employees with an ongoing supply of new material to take home and read. Your IT department will devour certification books, management will appreciate the latest business approaches and working mothers may even choose to share children’s books. Your staff will have a convenient opportunity for continual learning and development.

5. Bring the restaurant to them.

Consider this common scenario: Your team is under pressure to deliver by the deadline, and they don’t have time for a leisurely lunch. They don’t even have time to pick something up and eat at their desk. Bring the restaurant to them. Find a local eatery willing to bring a variety of sandwiches to your office to sell. Provide them with a break room and table to set up, and let your employees know when this is happening. They’ll thank you for bringing the convenience to them.

6. Set up lunch-and-learns.

Do you have employees who are passionate about gardening? Gaming? Becoming an author? Show them you care about their outside interests. Find a local expert who can come in and share their knowledge about subjects your team cares about. All you have to do is provide a conference room and communicate the details.

These approaches will save your team time and money and show them you value their work and personal goals. The barrier is not available budget; it is the time it takes to set up the programs. Bring in a group of your innovative thinkers and results-oriented individuals. Tell them your end goal — to make your organization a great place to work — and ask them for help. Empower them to brainstorm their own solutions, develop a process and make it happen.

Have you implemented similar programs to demonstrate to your workforce how important they are? You can contact me at @AskAlanEHall or via my personal website, www.AlanEHall.com.

The original version of the article appeared in Forbes.



Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is chairman of the Utah Technology Council.
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