One simple—and free—way to motivate your employees

Free coffee and cookies in the break room are great, as are performance-pegged bonuses, but regular, specific praise will keep morale and productivity high. Here’s how to offer it.

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It was the summer of 2000, and I was living my dream.

I was still in my early 20s, working for a large nonprofit in the heart of New York, and I’d been appointed to lead a small team. I loved my job; I loved the city. Life was good.

Then, suddenly, everything changed.

My department manager, who had become a great mentor, left the organization. He was succeeded by “Jack,” the assistant. Jack was the complete opposite of our old boss: He seemed always to focus on the negative and was extremely difficult to please.

I don’t think Jack hated us, but we felt that way sometimes—as he constantly pointed out our mistakes, never commending us for what we did right.

Morale sank.

Many years later, I moved to Europe and began work as a consultant with a number of international companies. While conducting research on employee satisfaction and company culture, I surveyed dozens of professionals working in various fields, and I noticed one complaint repeated over and over: I just don’t feel appreciated.

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