Are your employees enthusiastic about their work? Or do they show up tired and cheer up only when 4 p.m. rolls around? Unfortunately, many businesses experience the latter scenario, which ends up costing companies money and adversely affecting employees' job satisfaction.

Research has shown that employee morale is more important than many might realize. People are far more productive and creative when they have more positive emotions, according to a recent Gallup study, which added that the lost productivity due to employee disengagement costs more than $300 billion in the United States each year - a shocking amount by any standard.

In this article, we'll take a look at five not-so-common ways in which employers can motivate employees to perform at their best without spending a lot of money. Notably, many of these techniques have also delivered auxiliary benefits for companies that employ them, from new and innovative products to a more efficient and knowledgeable workforce.

Let Employees Take a Nap at Work
Researchers at the University of California, Berkley recently conducted a study showing that a mid-afternoon nap improved learning/performance by 10% compared to the control group that performed 10% worse. The researchers hypothesize that the gain was caused by a transfer of knowledge from short-term to long-term memory centers in the brain.

Some European countries already allow mid-afternoon naps as a part of their workdays, but successful U.S. companies like Google, Zappos, Nike, AOL and Deloitte have popularized these perks more recently. These policies often apply to both hourly employees and upper-level management alike, as it seems to tangibly improve job performance.

Let Employees Define Their Own Work
Paul Stamatiou, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur, recently wrote, "How do you attract those Jobsian A-players? It's with a culture where people can thrive and tackle problems they find interesting. It's not with offering a standing desk and beefy computers … [or] showing off office pictures of employees playing around with Nerf guns. Those are gimmicks."

Obviously, giving employees complete freedom may result in some problems. But many companies have successfully developed programs to let employees work on their own side projects that still relate to the company. For instance, 3M lets employees spend 15% of their day working on their own side projects. The result: the Post-It Note (among other things).

Encourage Constant Career Learning
Many employees become disengaged when their jobs are unbearably monotonous, which can happen easily if they are never learning new things. Learning new jobs and roles can be instrumental in curing this boredom and keeping employees engaged. In fact, one study by Arnold Worldwide found the single most important motivational factor for employees is the ability to learn.

The best way to promote constant learning is to bring employees into larger projects that increase their responsibilities, while ensuring that grunt work (e.g. work where no learning occurs) is properly managed by balancing it with more stimulating work. It's also important to ensure that employees know how all the work benefits the company over the long-term.

Publicly Recognize Good Work
Money may be the most common way to recognize good work, but there are plenty of other ways to effectively reward talented employees. Public commendations (via a cc'd email or verbal comments in a public setting) are particularly valuable, as the employees feel supported by both management and the rest of the company, including executives.

Give Frequent and Specific Feedback
In a survey, the results of which were published in the Wall Street Journal, 65% of "Generation Y" workers at Ernst & Young indicated that "providing detailed guidance in daily work" was moderately or extremely important, compared to just 39% of baby boomers. Moreover, 85% of the Gen-Y employees indicated that their age group peers desire "frequent and candid performance feedback," compared to just 50% of baby boomers.

Perhaps it's because of the Internet's instant gratifications, but younger workers seem to require a lot more feedback to remain engaged and motivated. That feedback should be given regularly and candidly, rather than superficially at annual reviews, in order to ensure things are running smoothly and employees are performing at their best.

The Bottom Line
The five techniques outlined in this article provide well-researched ways to improve employee morale and productivity. While some of these techniques are immediately employable, such as providing feedback or publicly recognizing good work, others may require some testing and modification before they prove to be highly-effective in business environments.

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