Bob Nelson knows that when it comes to motivating workers, you can never think too small. A handwritten thank you note from the boss, a hallway conversation followed up with a gift certificate for lunch, or some other modest touch often reinforces workers with a sense that they are doing a good job.
“It doesn’t take much to get workers to feel valued, but it has to be immediate, sincere and delivered in a personal way,” says Nelson, a Rancho Bernardo resident who has made a living studying motivation among workers and trying to get managers to realize the value of that resource. His ground-breaking 1994 book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees is now in its 47th printing with more than 1.5 million copies sold.
“Managers seem to forget that people like to be told they’ve done a good job,” he says. “If no one in your environment notices you did a good job, after a while you wonder whether it’s worth it. Eventually you are put in a position of either lowering your standards or moving on to a company that will notice your effort.”
Nelson understands that if employers want loyal and satisfied customers, they must first have loyal and satisfied employees. That turns a somewhat “warm and fuzzy human resources idea” into a sound business strategy.
“Supervisors don’t do this because they don’t want to, but they have never been trained to do these things,” Nelson says. “But look around at the good bosses you’ve had during your work life and some of them probably did recognize this and the value it had for them as a supervisor.”
Nelson recently worked with Keurig, a Reading, Pennsylvania, coffee company, to study the value of providing free gourmet coffee to workers. A nationwide survey revealed that 37 percent of workers favored free coffee in the office over having a company holiday party, and that 60 percent believed they would save money and time by having coffee available in the office.
“It really doesn’t take much to show employees that you care,” Nelson says. “You don’t need to be handing out Hawaiian vacations every month. There are some small things you can do to reward employees – free coffee, casual dress days, and celebration pizza–that offer a significant perceived value to employees.”
For two decades, Nelson has preached the value of making individuals feel valued in their jobs though articles, lectures, and consulting gigs around the world. He claims to have worked with two-thirds of the companies on the Fortune 500 list and has sold more than three million books. His work has repeatedly convinced him that small rewards used properly can yield big results for employers.
After a speech in the Midwest several years ago, Nelson was approached by a man from the audience holding a copy of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees in his hand.
“He turned to one of the suggestions and wanted me to know that this would absolutely not work,” Nelson says. “I listened to him and realized that no explanation of how that could work would appease him. So, I tore that page out of his book and handed it back to him. I said, ‘Here’s 1,000 ways to reward employees.’”
His point is well taken: each and every suggestion might not work for everyone, but there is plenty of value to go around if one takes the time to use some of his leads.