In these stressful times, what's most important to your employees? I recently asked about 1,500 employees. Here are their top 10 answers:

Learning activities (1) and a choice of assignment (9)

Find out what your employees want to learn, how they want to grow and develop, and where they want to be in five years. Today's employees value learning opportunities from which they can gain skills that enhance their worth and marketability.

Flexible working hours (2) and time off from work (7)

By allowing work to fit best with an employee's life, you increase the chances that the person will be motivated to work harder while he or she is at work. Time off might range from an occasional afternoon to attend a child's play at school or the ability to start the workday an hour early and leave an hour early. So long as the job gets done, what difference does it matter what hours they work?

Personal praise: verbal (3) public (8) or written (10)

Most employees report that they are never thanked for the job they do — especially not by their managers. Systematically start to thank your employees when they do good work, whether it's one-on-one in person, in the hallway, in a group meeting, on voicemail, in a written thank-you note, on e-mail, or at the end of each day.

Increased autonomy (5) and authority (4)

Greater autonomy and authority say, “I trust you to act in the best interests of the company, to do so independently and without approval of myself or others.” These are privileges, not rights, that should be granted to those who have most earned them, based on past performance, not on tenure or seniority.

Time with their manager (6)

Especially for younger employees, time spent with one's manager is a valued form of validation and inspiration. It also lets them get their questions answered, discuss ideas and possibilities, or just have their opinions heard.

Are you wondering where money ranked in my survey? Cash rewards ranked 15th with employees. We all need money to live — but there's much, much more to work today than what any of us is paid.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is a lecturer, a president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego, and best-selling author of Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You! Do What Needs to Be Done, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, and Managing For Dummies. For more information, call (800) 575-5521, visit, or send an e-mail to