How We Got Our Employees to Love Their Jobs . / Credit: Happy Workers Image via Shutterstock

As the economy improves, more employees are trolling job search websites looking for greener career pastures.

For a small business, losing key employees can be expensive, even disastrous.

So how can a small business owner get employees so excited about their work that they aren't running for the exit when the whistle blows?

"It starts with the hiring process," said Jill Mikols Etesse, creative director for SmartyShortz, a boutique mobile development firm focused on building apps related to children's education. The company was founded in 2009 and has nine employees. "By the time we bring someone on we have had open discussions about what they'll be doing and they know why we are hiring them right from the get-go, which has a huge impact on employee satisfaction once they actually get to work," Mikols Etesse said. "We even have them create their own titles." Her "unofficial" title is Don Draper Understudy.

Simple recognition can go a long way to making employees excited to come to work.  "We are a small company, so our employees wear many hats," she said. "Constant gratitude can really make a difference. It really takes so little to make people happy about coming to work. Recognizing when people have gone above and beyond is extremely important to making work more enjoyable. No one takes advantage of anyone here, because we all feel very appreciated and everyone is much more passionate about what they are doing."

While relaxing rigid reporting structures is easier in an entrepreneurial environment than in a larger corporation, it is another way to keep employees engaged. "One day they may be part of a team working on a project, but the next day they could be taking the lead," she said. "We give everyone room to shine, which is an important factor in job satisfaction."

While hearing "thank you" is a motivator, it is also important to provide other types of incentives as well. Just don't take a cookie-cutter approach to rewarding the team, she said. "We try to make it fun and personal," she said. "Find out the interests of each individual. While taking the team to a ballgame might be a great reward for some, others might not want to intrude in their personal time."

If possible, small business owners should offer their employees some type of monetary incentives beyond their salaries so that they feel a connection to the success of the operation.

 "We have not hired anyone who does not have a stake in the business beyond their paycheck," Mikols Etesse said. "Yes, it takes longer to build a dream team this way, but we have finally accomplished it with friends of friends, family, employees somehow connected to us that we have offered a small percentage of the company to and treat them as family."

While all of these are ways to keep employees happy, she said doing them consistently is important. "It is a day-in, day out process," she said. "It is not just a once-in-a-while proposition."

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