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By Christopher Freeburn.


Employee-productivity-in-article.pngKeeping your employees motivated and productive is an important goal for any small business owner. Not only will highly motivated and happy employees do more work, but their motivation can also boost your business in other ways. In fact, the smaller your business, the more crucial it is that your employees are happy at their jobs. In smaller workplaces, individual employees have a greater impact on the overall business because each employee does so much. Additionally, your employees’ attitude toward their jobs and your business will likely be perceived by your customers, who will then form opinions about your business based on their interaction with your personnel.


Pull-Quote.pngIn their book, Motivating Employees, authors Anne Bruce and James S. Pepitone write:   “Your goal as manager should be to help your employees identify their welfare with that of the organization. When that happens they will naturally feel motivated to work hard –– because it’s in their best interest to do so.” Ignoring employee concerns, or behaving as if they don’t count, will only demoralize your staff. “For example, if you are secretive and refuse to provide employees with the tools they believe they need, it’s natural for employees to interpret that as a sign that you don’t care about them, which leads them to care less about the company, which hurts their performance.”


Motivated employees provide tangible benefits to your business. If your employees are enthusiastic and well motivated, your customers are surely going to notice that. Upbeat employees contribute to a positive image of your business. They are also much more likely to interact well with customers and be attentive to their needs. Downbeat or bored-looking employees, on the other hand, are less likely to provide a positive experience for the customer and can cost you repeat business, Pepitone adds.


So how do you keep your employees happy and well motivated?


1. Listen.  Perhaps the simplest way to keep your employees happy is to make them feel like they matter to you. “One of the biggest complaints people often have with their employers is that they feel that no one listens to them,” says Dr. Joanne Sujansky, founder and CEO of KeyGroup, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. “Employees often have a perspective on the day-to-day operation of your business that you may not.” Let your employees know that they can come to you with suggestions and observations and that you will hear them out. That means listening attentively without interrupting. You don’t have to agree with them, but giving their views a fair hearing will go a long way toward making them feel like part of a team.


You should also encourage employee input. Actively solicit their opinions. This lets them know that their opinions are important to you and that you value their advice. Employee input can be particularly useful for you as the business owner when trying to set goals or move the business in a different direction. Your employees may have a better grasp of the difficulties they will face when tackling a new task than you do and may be able to point out ways of saving time and money you hadn’t considered


2.  Reward performance. People who work hard enjoy seeing some recognition of their effort. When an employee accomplishes a difficult task, or performs beyond expectation, it’s a good idea for an employer—especially a small business owner—to take note of that performance. The reward can be anything from a private pat on the back or a boost in pay to a more public thank you or the bestowing of an award or reward, but the key element is to let the employee know that his contribution has been noticed and appreciated.


Beyond simple praise, you may want to consider offering specific rewards—small monetary bonuses, additional vacation time, etc.—to employees who achieve predetermined performance targets. Bonuses and gifts can act as a strong motivator and can foster a healthy competition among employees.


3.  Provide adequate feedback. Make sure your employees know how they are doing, both overall and on specific tasks. Periodic performance reviews are a great way to keep employees aware of what is expected of them and how well they are meeting those requirements. Prompt feedback also avoids unpleasant surprises. If an employee is failing to adequately perform their duties for months, he or she will be unhappy if it is only brought to their attention when the problem has reached the point where you are considering letting them go.



4.  Be fair. Treat your employees in a consistent manner. That means refraining from chewing out one employee for something you’d barely mention to another. Unequal treatment breeds resentment inside a workplace, both against employees who are deemed the boss’s “favorites” and the employer or owner as well. Resentful employees will not be motivated to help your business, and especially resentful employees might even be tempted to sabotage the company. Treat every employee in a professional manner. While you may want to praise employees publicly, discipline them privately.


5. Remove problem employees. Nothing can kill office morale faster than employees who consistently fail to do their job properly—loading additional work on other employees—or who behave badly in the office. Abusive or discriminatory behavior in the workplace should be addressed immediately and firmly, before it creates an uncomfortable work environment for your other employees. Let your employees know what is and what is not acceptable behavior in the workplace and then be consistent in enforcing those rules. “You wouldn’t let a weed grow in your garden,” says Sujansky. “Don’t let one grow in your business".

In the 15 years that a small metal finishing company has had an aggressive wellness program, the number of employees who smoke has decreased from 42 percent to 15 percent. The compliance rate could be due to the fact that non-smoking employees get automatic lower insurance premiums. However, the senior managers think employees are motivated by the program’s offerings, which include perks like a three-day, all-expenses-paid mountain climbing expedition in Colorado. The company also boasts insurance premiums that are 30 percent lower than comparable Midwestern outfits in their industry.


Wellness White-in article.pngA small oil drilling company was losing tens of thousands of dollars per year in lost productivity, sick pay, and recruitment costs every time a worker was injured. Since it realized that a number of workers were at high risk for injury and even death based on their body mass indices, blood pressure levels, and age, they knew that they needed to take proactive steps to improve its workers’ health. The company worked with an independent wellness consultant who showed them that their savings could be up to $125,000 for each employee, which could amount to $2.5 million over the average 20-year employee lifecycle.


A small network security company in Florida has been able to decrease its employee turnover through a competitive fitness program that keeps employees engaged, energized, and feeling valued. In a survey, 92 percent of the company’s managers reported an improvement in their workgroups’ morale, motivation and effectiveness since the wellness program was introduced.


Wellness Program Benefits

While 82 percent of American businesses with more than 50 employees have some kind of health program, small businesses have been slower than large businesses to institute full-fledged wellness programs. However, for small businesses the stakes can be even higher: As illustrated in the case studies above, well-managed, strategic health and wellness programs can help small businesses minimize healthcare costs, reduce lost productivity, and attract and retain the best employees – all of which will ultimately impact their bottom lines and long-term viability. The risk of being complacent is higher for small businesses as well: “One big medical claim can just destroy the premium structure of a small company,” says Bill Kizer, founder of Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA).


Defining “Wellness”

Before deciding if a wellness program is right for your business, let’s first define what “corporate wellness” is. Wellness is not a static, unchanging state; it is “an active process of becoming aware of and learning to make healthy choices that lead toward a longer and more successful existence.” A wellness program can comprise on-site fitness centers and health coaches; healthy food offerings; ergonomic workstations; educational workshops in such topics as CPR, stress management and nutrition; Web-based support groups; competitive companywide activities, like weight loss contests and softball teams; screenings for conditions like skin cancer and diabetes; and health risk assessments.


A word should be included here about health risk assessments (HRA): These are surveys that gather baseline self-reported health data from each participating employee, which in turn are used by employers to create customized interventions. Learning of risk factors and feeling empowered to address them are often key motivating factors for employee participation. Other possible incentives are bonuses or other financial rewards; reimbursement; flextime; healthcare premium discounts, or contributions to tax-free health accounts.Corporate Wellness Pull Quote.png


How to Start

Creating an effective program has several components:


  • Define your objectives, i.e. decreased absenteeism; better morale; healthcare cost savings.
  • Specify your needs, i.e. uncover health problems in your workforce.
  • Decide how you are going to address those needs, i.e. through a comprehensive in-house wellness program, or by starting small with discounted memberships to a local fitness center, for example. (If you need guidance, there are many private companies that offer wellness consulting, or you can seek information from organizations like the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association.)
  • Determine how you will motivate employees to participate – with financial rewards, time off, or prizes
  • Keep track of your progress, i.e. by periodically assessing program performance and participation levels and using internal communications to keep employees informed of new offerings.


Studies show that there are societal benefits to employee wellness programs as well: A report from the American Institute for Preventive Medicine states that employees who fall into 5 or more risk categories (stress; weight issues; high cholesterol; hypertension; lack of exercise; and smoking) generate three times more health-related costs than employees in only 1 to 2 categories. Additionally, employees who smoke one or more packs of cigarettes a day generate healthcare claims that are 18 percent higher than non-smokers; individuals with hypertension have health claims that are 11 percent higher, and being 30% or more overweight can result in 11 percent higher claims than being 20% overweight.


These may be some of the reasons that President Obama has highlighted prevention as integral to his health reform plans. As a small business, you should consider making wellness a central component of your short- and long-term growth strategy.

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