No matter how successful your company’s business plan is, how many investors you can excite, or how many hours you spend working yourself, there’s one thing your company can’t do without if you want it to thrive.

Star employees.

Great employees are the people that make the behind-the-scenes of your business run smoothly. They’re the ones serving the food, or stocking the product shelves, or helping customers solve issues. What’s more, your strongest workers will often hold up infinitely more weight than the this-is-just-a-job grinders. They’ll likely enjoy getting more responsibility, and, in taking on more, they’ll lighten the stress of your load. So, it’s in your best interest to keep them happy and motivated.

Here are some easy ways to keep star employees shining.

  1. Think outside the box with competitions and rewards. Obviously, raises and bonuses are much appreciated, but giving away an extra day or afternoon especially after an important project reaches completion, or when business is slow–can be a huge incentive for employees. Hosting some kind of sales game where the winner gets a day of vacation may light a major fire! In addition to formal vacation, being open to employee needs on a one-off basis (such as when a relative is in town or a child needs extra care) wins loyalty.
  1. Make sure you add some fun into your company culture. Obviously this will depend on the type of business you run, but whether it’s a nerf-gun fight in the hallway every Friday afternoon or biweekly donuts and coffee on Monday mornings, loosening up can remind employees that work doesn’t have to be an occasion to dread. If an employee is working for a company he or she likes, she’ll obviously have a much stronger motivation to do well. You might even subtly tweak the type of company fun to what your best employees like to do, or take their suggestions. Just as they lead in the office, these workers will lead morale during extracurricular fun.
  1. Show appreciation. Gratitude will always go a long way toward building employee morale. Be specific when thanking employees—don’t just say you’re happy when they do their job well, but try to point out specific instances where their work ethic or attitude made a difference. For instance, not just complimenting them on landing a huge sale—but complimenting them on the listening skills they demonstrated while communicating with the customer. Feedback tells the employee that you notice hard work and don’t take it for granted.
  1. Have open communication. If something your best employees are doing isn’t working for you, tell them quickly, honestly and kindly. You want to create a work environment where employees are pushed to perform to their highest potential, but also where they feel they have the resources needed in order for them to succeed. A toxic work environment where employees are gossiped about instead of directly critiqued will send motivation plummeting. Plus, you don’t want to end up fuming at an otherwise ideal worker for one tiny act, when the bulk of his or her duties are completed so thoroughly.
  1.  Start a mentorship program. If you have a handful of rockstar employees, pair them with younger newcomers so their successful traits are passed on. The more experienced employees can help newer employees set goals and work toward achieving them, and can also serve as additional accountability. It’s fun to teach others what you’ve worked hard to learn, and it starts a cycle of star employees in which talented staff members can mint new, younger talent in your company.

Promotions and raises are important, but it’s during the day-to-day experience where employees will either feel underappreciated or immensely valued. Make sure your best employees know how vital they are to the success of your company, and watch them take your business to new heights.

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