The prospect of discussing money (or the lack of) is enough to get any boss perspiring. But don't be tempted to put off questions about a wage increase in the hope it gets forgotten. The chances are your staff will have a good idea of the financial state of the company. 'Tell it how it is. You need a frank discussion with your team to say we can't afford to pay you any more but what else can I do to help?' says Carole Spiers, business consultant and occupational stress adviser.
Ask the team
It's easy to get so swept up thinking of solutions in board meetings that you forget to ask the people who matter: your colleagues. And the results can be surprising. A few years ago, Kwik Fit Insurance asked its call centre staff what would make them happier at work. Taking leave in two-hour blocks was one idea. They also wanted lids for their coffee cups, so they could drink at their desk without cutting into their breaks. 'They're simple suggestions but are unlikely to come out of a board meeting with senior managers,' says Jane Sunley [pictured], chief executive of consultancy Learnpurple, which specialises in employee engagement.
Sunley, who works with the Maybourne Group, owner of Claridge's and the Berkeley Hotel, says the hotels put a map on the wall of the staff canteen. When people join the company they put a pin on the country they're from. 'It welcomes them to the team and is good for communication,' she says. A social office is often a happy one. Organise get-togethers, whether it's paintballing sessions or a small glass of wine in the staff room at the end of an afternoon. Helping a charity is another way to give workers a common purpose and a feel-good factor.
Let them grow
Offer courses or training. Set staff challenges. Career progression is a big motivator for many. Be clear about how employees can advance and discuss their goals. If a new position is up for grabs, try to hire from within to encourage people to work harder.
Know your staff
Get to know their circumstances and be aware of outside problems that could affect their work. Jeremy Jaffe is the co-founder of What On Earth, an organic food manufacturer and distributor with almost 40 people at its Battersea site. When one worker had problems with childcare, he moved her shift around. 'It's not just because we're cuddly and lovely, it's beneficial to the business,' he says. 'When someone leaves it's a massive cost because we have to spend time training someone else.'
Make small gestures
Allowing people to decorate their own office space, offering ice cream on a sunny day or giving staff a day off on their birthday are ideas to give the team a boost. Have they put in a lot of overtime? Give them a Friday afternoon off. Is their child sick? Let them work from home. And free food is bound to go down a treat. Reward staff with lunch vouchers or order in pizzas as a one-off. Use what resources you have to make it affordable. Jaffe regularly takes his staff out for a meal. He also gives staff discounts on the food his business produces.
Don't underestimate the value of a simple thankyou given in person. Rather than a mass email, make it personal to the job people have done. It's the easiest and least expensive way of letting workers know they're appreciated, but it's often overlooked.