Helping Employers to Grow

Money isn't the only tool for lifting workers' performance. Encouragement, respect, and mentoring bring their own dividends

By Karen E. Klein

Q: Could you give me some information on how my small electrical-installation business can develop, and how I can encourage our 10 employees? I'm interested in furthering their skills and motivating them. -- D.M., South Africa


When employees are happy with their jobs, they are most likely to perform well and seek to further their skills. Management experts say that satisfied employees are usually energetic and motivated, while discontented employees channel their energies into fault-finding, stirring up trouble, and job-hunting. Your task, as an employer, is to determine what makes your workers happy and satisfied on the job. Remember that you are likely to find more than one answer: One person's priorities may be very different from another's.

Money, of course, is an important source of employee happiness -- and a powerful tool for retaining them. However, we all know people who make good money and have excellent benefits, but still hate their jobs. While employees want to be fairly compensated for their efforts, experts say, they also want to be treated with respect -- which means that their suggestions and concerns are taken seriously -- and challenged to take on more responsibility and move to higher levels within the firm.


  Schedule time to speak to each of your employees individually, perhaps at an annual performance review, and try to get an understanding of why they are working, and what their immediate and long-term career goals are. Then develop a plan with them that will assist them in meeting those goals.

The Better Business Bureau recommends these additional ways to boost employee morale and satisfaction:

• Empower workers to do their jobs while giving them as much independence as possible, even if they don't specifically seek autonomy. A work environment in which employees are constantly monitored, micromanaged, and bossed around usually produces an atmosphere of stifled creativity and poisoned resentment.

• Keep your employees informed about the big picture so they feel like shareholders in the company. Make sure they understand why they are being asked to do what they do and how their work can benefit others. Invite their opinions and, when practical, allow them to actively participate in business discussions and decisions. The more involved they are, the more committed they will be to the business.

• Never hesitate to communicate your specific expectations about work ethics, quality, honesty, and job performance. Do not assume that employees always and inherently understand what is required of them.

Finally, recognize your employees' accomplishments with frequent and sincere praise, taking time to single out employees who have gone well beyond the call of duty.

Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

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