Make your staff feel like they are worth a million dollars – without spending a million

There was a small business I once owned that I sold to a public company. I had a group of almost thirty employees that were committed and focused and really worked above and beyond what was expected of them. We had minimal staff turnover (in fact zero turnover over the 18 months before the sale) and internal staff satisfaction ratings were constantly high.

Within six months of the sale, only three of the original staff remained. The staff resignations came almost as fast as the client resignations. I wasn’t involved with the business after the sale but staff would call me from time to time for a coffee.

One day a long-term staff member rang and asked to have a coffee with me. I agreed and we sat down to talk about the current business. He told me he was about to resign. I asked why. He said that it was his birthday last week – and he didn’t get a birthday cake!

At face value it seemed pathetic.

When you dig deeper though, it seems entirely logical and we can all learn a few crucial lessons from it.

I spoke last week about the top seven reasons that employees stay with an organisation. Number two was having a good boss and number three was receiving recognition. These two components are very closely linked.

This long-term employee was not so precious to resign because he didn’t receive a cake on his birthday. The birthday cake itself was symbolic of a much greater lethargy towards employees from the new management team.

Which brings me to a few nice little touches that you can add to your business to make your staff feel special.

The first one seems obvious after my previous story. I recommend the CEO place the birthday of every employee in their diary and, first thing on the appropriate morning, send an e-mail to the employee wishing them happy birthday. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive e-mail but one that shows a genuine interest in the fact it is their birthday. It will put an instant smile on their face and they will have an extra spring in their step for the day. Depending on the size of the organisation, I would also recommend a birthday cake to be celebrated at morning tea with either the staff member’s direct team or all employees in that particular location. Make that employee feel special for the day – for the cost of a twenty dollar birthday cake the benefits will be returned hundreds of times over.

Secondly, I would recommend a similar strategy on employment anniversary dates. We typically have a drafted policy that states what small token each employee will receive at each anniversary. For example, they may receive a gift to the value of $20 at their one year anniversary through to a gift valued at $100 at their ten year anniversary. Again a small price to pay for the chance to celebrate – in a very public way – an employee that has ticked over another year of service.

Personal milestones of any nature really need to be celebrated. If an employee wins the left-hand blind-folded Frisbee throwing competition on the weekend, tell all the employees about it on the Monday morning. Congratulate the employee and ensure management is proud of their Frisbee-throwing employee. A monthly internal newsletter is a great way to ensure all of your staff feel an integral part of the team – including a focus on an employee each month. I actually love the idea of an employee of the month – and I recommend using an internal voting tool to allow all employees to vote for the employee of the month. Make it a transparent and open process whereby it is not open to management to pick a ‘favourite’. We have used a 1-10 voting scale where all employees vote for all other employees each month and the winner – on pure points – is named the ‘Employee of the Month’ and given a small gift card as well as being the one featured in the newsletter next month. It might sound a little corny – but the employees love it.

Number four on my list of ‘feel special’ items is to handwrite a Christmas card to ALL employees. I once was Chairman of an organisation with 344 employees. I spent a couple of days before Christmas handwriting a Christmas card – with a personalised message – to every single employee. Some said it was a waste of time but the feedback I received after the event was tremendous. No amount of wage increases can buy this kind of ‘feel-good’ atmosphere in an organisation.

The old chestnut is that sincerity is the key – and if you can fake that, you have it made! In all seriousness, one of the best things you can do for your staff is to show them you care about the most important asset you have in your business.

Let me know if there is something you do for your employees to make them feel special at

Scroll to Top