With a surging economy, it’s more important than ever for business owners to invest in employee retention. Recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that 3.6 million workers chose to leave their place of employment in May (that’s 65% of all job separations).

This speaks to the ability today’s worker has to leverage their skills and land a job with higher pay and better benefits elsewhere if business owners don’t take steps to reward and retain their best employees.

If higher pay and generous bonuses are off the table at your company, there are a variety of ways that you can reward top-performers and keep your team members happily employed at your company.

Here are five of my favorite creative ways to reward your team:

Unexpected Gifts and Perks

It doesn’t take much money to show your team you care about them and appreciate their hard work. And there are a variety of ways you can reward valued employees with a surprise gift.

Small gestures, like a gift card to a favorite local coffee shop, restaurant, or bar can go a long way to make team members feel valued, and if a gesture like this comes out of the blue, it will mean even more.

Alternatively find a local restaurant that delivers and send an email to your team with the menu, taking their orders for a Friday afternoon. Not only will they love getting a free meal, but it creates an opportunity for everyone to eat together and relax at the end of the week.

Early on in my career, I worked as an editor at a newspaper that sponsored a local summer stock theater. The publisher called me into his office one afternoon and gave me a couple of tickets for that evening’s show out of the blue. He let me leave early so my wife and I could enjoy dinner out and a show. The gesture caught me by surprise and made me feel valued (and we had a great time!).

Handwritten Notes

It may sound a little old fashioned, but receiving a handwritten note of appreciation (either left on your desk or in the mail) can make anyone feel valued.

If you’re a small business owner consider scheduling time once a month to sit down and write a short note to one or two people on your team who have gone above and beyond. They’ll love knowing that their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, and writing out your thanks by hand will mean a lot more to your employee than if the same message was received as an email.

Improved Office Equipment

If you work in an office, little things like a larger monitor, a faster computer, or a brand new, ergonomic office chair will make a big difference in the daily life of your employees.

You may not have the budget to buy everyone in the office a high tech height-adjustable desk, but if you reward one employee a month for their hard work, this will demonstrate to your team that you care about their comfort, and want to invest in helping them do their jobs better.

You could either offer this new equipment as a surprise gift, or you could email them a list of options, so they are empowered to choose the office upgrade that will make the biggest difference in their day-to-day life (my preference).

Just make sure you share the love, and be certain your valued team members are rewarded on a rotating basis so nobody feels forgotten.

Paid Professional Development

One proven way to attract and retain top talent is by providing regular professional development opportunities, according to staffing agency Robert Half. Not only do workers want to feel like they’re growing and gaining new skills, but by regularly cross-training your employees and investing in them, you protect your business when a team member does choose to leave (you have internal options who can successfully step into their role).

A few options for paid professional development are:

  • Partnering with a local University to schedule advanced training in Excel, Web Development, etc. for your employees to attend free of charge.
  • Bring in a local celebrity or business owner to give a talk or workshop to your employees.
  • Offer tuition reimbursement for employees who want to take night or weekend classes as they work toward a degree or certification.
  • Provide a subscription to Lynda.com or a similar service, where your employees can take online courses and learn new skills for free on their own time.
  • Pay for employees to travel to and attend relevant conferences or trade shows.

While some business owners will fear this sort of investment is simply training their employees to outgrow their position at your company, your team members will value this sort of investment, and see it as a reason to remain with your company for the long term. You’re also creating a culture of internal growth and advancement, which supports your best employees with opportunities to grow professionally and take on more responsibility at your company.

A Subscription That Speaks To Their Passion

Everyone is passionate about things outside of the office. Your most valued employee may love to cook, he might be a cinephile, she might love to work out, or perhaps you have a wine-lover on your staff.

It isn’t expensive to give your best team members a gift that will improve their life outside the office, and make him or her feel appreciated. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

  • A Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime subscription for the office cinephile who loves to spend their weekends binge-watching television or movies.
  • A gym membership for the office athlete who loves to blow off steam after work or on the weekends.
  • A wine club subscription from your employee’s favorite winery, so they can look forward to quarterly shipments of their favorite vino. Nonetheless, they can learn more about the history of when the world started making wine, and it would be a great experience for every wine lover.
  • Pay for a series of cooking classes for your aspiring chef, or buy them a Blue Apron or Plated subscription to give them an opportunity to prepare new recipes a few times per week.
  • A dry-cleaning membership to the snappy dresser who always has his collar and cuffs just right.
  • Season tickets to a local minor league team for your sports fanatic (season tickets to my city’s AA Baseball team average about $7 per game).
  • Season tickets to a local theater for your culture and art lover.
  • Tickets to a seasonal concert series or music venue for those who love to rock.

Make Employee Appreciation Your Priority This Year

While there are many more great ways to show your best employees you appreciate them, these five inexpensive options are some of my favorites.

When you consider that the average cost to hire and replace a valued employee is over $4,000, you’ll quickly find that making an effort to reward and retain your biggest assets (your people) is an easy decision.

Joe Hessert is the founder of 10Desks.com, a website offering office product reviews, design tips, and business management advice to office workers and work-from-home professionals. He has written for Business.com, LifeHack, MapQuest, The Los Angeles Review, The New Haven Review, and he maintains a business and marketing blog at joehessert.com.

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