Imagine going to work day in and day out and never hearing a thank-you. Unfortunately, many of you may not have to imagine this, as you are either experiencing this now or you have had this experience earlier on in your career. Employee recognition appears to be on the decline these days. This is a huge mistake if keeping the people you have in 2013 and beyond is of any interest to you and your organization.
According to the latest Mood Tracker Survey from Globoforce, a global provider of employee recognition solutions, 55 percent of survey respondents said they would leave their jobs  for a company that clearly recognized employees for their efforts. But there is more to this picture than meets the eye. You may not be particularly worried about people finding other jobs in this economy because you are the only major employer in town, but what about the impact that employee dissatisfaction is having on productivity and customer service? Now that I have your attention, here are five low-cost ways to thank your employees:
1. Say the words, “Thank you.” Then, follow up by being specific about what you are thanking someone for so they know exactly what behaviors they should continue doing. Here’s what I mean by this. Suppose you see John in the hall, and you say in passing, “Hey John, thanks for the report you left on my desk.” John may be thinking, “Yeah sure. I wonder if he has any idea how many hours that I put in to make sure the report was comprehensive. Did he even read the darn thing?” Now imagine if you had instead said, “Hi John. I wanted to thank you for the report that you left on my desk last night. I appreciate you staying late to complete the report. Your findings were quite comprehensive, especially your comments about the results of our latest customer survey. I’ll be sure to note that when I meet with the board this afternoon. Again, thanks.” As you can see, the second approach may take about 15 seconds longer to deliver, but this is time well spent. Now go out there and thank one of your employees.
2. Make it personal. While doing research for my new book, The Magnetic Workplace: How to Attract Top Talent That Will Stick Around (Nicholas Brealey, 2013), I interviewed Chris Patterson, CEO of Interchanges, of Jacksonville, Florida. Chris makes it a point to get to know his employees and their families on a personal level. In fact, he often sends a handwritten note, along with a gift, to the spouses and significant others of his employees, thanking them for their support during times when employees have been asked to work more than their normal schedule. Chris does this because he wants to. Not because he has to. This type of connection to his people and their families is what creates the stickiness in his organization. Voluntary turnover is an occurrence that rarely happens at Interchanges.
3. Give the gift of time. What is something that is highly valued these days, but is in short supply? That would be time, especially during the hectic holiday season. Try this the next time you want to thank an employee for a job well done. Walk up to their desk on a Friday at noon and tell them to take the afternoon off. Accept no excuses. Tell them you are giving them a paid afternoon off as a thank-you for being such a valuable member of your team. Don’t be surprised if they show up early on Monday morning feeling rested and ready to plow through their day.
4. Give a gift they will actually treasure. If you are like Chris, then you will have taken the time to get to know what matters most to your employee. Rather than providing them with a generic gift card, consider purchasing a gift that really matters to the employee that you are thanking. Perhaps it’s two tickets to a sold-out performance of one of their favorite artists, or a copy of a rare book they’ve been trying to find for their collection. This type of offering will demonstrate that your gift is from the heart and not just something taken from petty cash.
5. Break the rules when they deserve to be broken. Treating employees equally is never fair, especially when every employee’s contribution is not the same. For example, suppose you have an employee who always volunteers to work the trade shows, which usually require additional unpaid hours. This employee comes to you and asks if she can work from home one day a week to take her sick father to his weekly doctor’s appointment. Your company policy does not allow for telecommuting. Break the rule and allow this employee to care for her ailing parent. The action of you putting your employee first will demonstrate to her that you are thankful to have her on your team. Then head directly to HR to discuss what can be done to change this antiquated policy.
Thanking employees for their contribution is something that can easily be done and doesn’t require a wad of cash. It just requires the desire to be the kind of manager you wished you had either now, or at some point in your life.
--Roberta Chinsky Matuson is an internationally recognized expert on increasing profitability by maximizing employee contribution. Her website is matusonconsulting.com . She is the author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around,  a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Download a free bonus chapter . Her new book, "The Magnetic Workplace: How to Hire Top Talent That Will Stick Around," will be published in 2013. Sign up to receive a subscription to Roberta’s complimentary newsletter .
[Image: Flickr user Thomas ]