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It's the Little Things: 10 Low- or No-cost Things Leaders Can Do to Show Gratitude

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

When we interview candidates that are ready for a new job, we ask them, “What are the most important variables in what makes a good job?” Company culture and having a good leadership team are often in the top three, usually ahead of compensation. Company culture means different things to different people – so we drill into that what that means to each candidate. The answers are usually one where they feel appreciated, supported, and empowered to do their job. Company culture can vary widely - even internally - depending on the leadership. The sales team might be having the time of their life, while the warehouse group is a sweat shop.

People don’t leave companies. They leave managers. Most of our passive candidates (ones who are currently employed and not in danger of a layoff) are ready to move on because they feel unappreciated or neglected by their leadership.

Many managers assume that people are motivated by money. While fair compensation is a component of job satisfaction, if you are hiring intrinsically driven employees, compensation is not the main driver for them.

As a leader, it’s your job to see that your team feels appreciated for the work that they do. Whether a supervisor on the shop floor or the CEO, keeping your team engaged does not have to cost thousands in pay raises. Most front-line supervisors don't have much say in what people are paid anyway, nor have a huge expense budget at their disposal.

So how can you keep your team motivated if you cannot grant raises or do expensive team building exercises? If you are creative, little things that cost little to nothing can be the difference in an engaged employee and one that is walking out the door.

Here are several that you can try:

  1. Birthday card + fancy cupcake on their birthday: $8 (Bonus: birthday cards for their spouse and kids)

  2. “Treat yo’ self” gift cards at Starbucks or local lunch spots: $5-10. You can buy a stack of them to have on hand when someone does something great.

  3. Send an email to your boss/CEO praising something one of your employees did well. CC the individual. Cost: $0

  4. Food. Everyone loves food. From a taco-bar lunch to donuts. You can get creative – buy a box of popsicles, a bag of apples or a couple of watermelons. Cost: $4-100

  5. Food Part 2: Take them to lunch on their birthday and work anniversary. Cost: $30

  6. Participate in the unpleasant jobs. Helping with or doing the unpleasant jobs yourself – from plunging the toilet to sweeping out the warehouse shows you care and is an example of servant-leadership.

  7. Celebrate success and reward positive behavior. It could be company-wide stuff, like beating sales goals, safety records, or productivity, or individual stuff like handling a delicate customer situation. Getting the team together to praise them or singling out individual success costs nothing. Just live in the moment for a bit. Avoid the temptation to pivot to the future: “Now let’s do it again next month!”

  8. Recurring awards. Football teams award game balls to someone who made a big contribution to a team’s performance. You can do the same thing. Employee of the month signs or parking spots, a gimmicky trophy (like the Dundies), even goofy personalized swag like coffee cups, mouse pads, or a 12-month calendar can be picked up for very little. Imagine giving a tiara and sash to the truck driver with the best safety record. It doesn’t matter what the award, it’s the recognition that counts.

  9. Cross-training days. Have accounting ride along with sales. Have HR spend the day on the floor. Have the CEO spend the day with one of your delivery drivers. When other departments get a feel for what your team does all day, they likely get more support and appreciation for their work.

  10. Take a minute. Taking a minute to thank someone in your organization (they don’t have to work for you) and that you appreciate them. The receptionist. A customer service rep. The intern. Cost: $0.

At the heart of all these things is gratitude. Showing gratitude is important for a leader and builds trust, camaraderie, and social capital. Saying thanks and showing appreciation to your people costs very little and is worth every penny.

Especially if you must replace them. We should know – recruiting the right people does not come cheaply!

We'd like to take a minute to show you some gratitude - for reading. Please consider leaving comments or sharing with your network.

The Rivet Group is an executive search and consulting firm. If you are looking to hire, are ready for a new job, or have leaders who need help, please let us know and we can talk it over.

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