While your employees might appreciate free lunches, massages, and half-day Fridays during the summer (though I would really appreciate this one) the things that really provide them job satisfaction are not material in nature or quick fix management techniques.
The things your employees would like you to do require caring, trust, and respect.
Ask for their opinion
Once a month ask your employees if they have ideas that could help the business. Use those open lines of communication to provide you extra sets of eyes, ears, and brains.
Do not dismiss ideas from employees that venture outside of their department or skill set. In fact those might end up being some of the ideas to give the most consideration to. True disruption has to come from outside of the system. To get radically different results you have to do things radically different.
Provide them good tools to do their job
It can be incredibly frustrating to try to complete work in a timely fashion when using a slow computer or proprietary software that is decades old. Tools that make them more efficient which will allow them to respond to you and your customers’ needs faster as well as give them more time to work on the larger projects that push your company forward.
Unleash them from constraints
Just because a task has always been done in one fashion does not mean that is the best way to do it. Let them find their own ways to get the results you require.
Further, always be asking the question of what tasks actually need to be done and what can you do without. Your business is an ever evolving body made up of people, processes, and products. Sometimes you will find an appendix that you do not need anymore.
Provide avenues to grow
Continuing education (though nobody really like the mandatory kind), conferences, certifications, and other ways for your employee to be a lifelong learner will be beneficial for them and you. They will learn methods to improve your business as well as have numerous networking opportunities to tell people about it.
A book budget is one of the nicer perks I’ve heard about recently. Baremetrics awesomely gives each employee a Kindle Paperwhite with unlimited Kindle books. If your employees might benefit from programming, design, or other books that don’t really work in the Kindle format than a budget for paper books would be better.
Respect their time
Yes, you are paying them for their time. But do not take that for granted. It is the one thing they cannot make more of.
This is really a combination of the other things on this list. Do whatever you can to make them more efficient, keep the busy work to a minimum, forgo useless meetings and conference calls, and do not ask them to work nights and weekends.
Give them a real work/life balance
Really make an effort not to give people projects late in the afternoon and respect their nights and weekends. Being able to put work out of their mind will help them avoid burnout.
This is a real area where you can lead by example. Your employees are going to take your cue. If you stay at the office late every day then subtly that is going to imply that they should. Same goes for email outside of work hours. So, give yourself some work/life balance. You deserve it.
Be honest about the state of the company
Your employees are probably more perceptive about the state of your business than you imagine. In fact, some of them might be more in tune to it than you are. They will know if you are hiding the truth and might resent you for it. If the company is struggling a bit be optimistic but do not whitewash it. Lack of communication leads to rumors and anxiety.
Show an interest in them
They are people first–employees second.
Show an interest in their personal lives, families, and interests/hobbies. They feel good when you ask. You might even find shared interests or ways that their outside the work activities could benefit the company.
At the end of the day your employees have likely spent more time working for you than they did with their family. Treating them right is best for everybody.