The last couple of years have been tough for most businesses — and for their employees. Forty percent of employees consider their job either “very” or “extremely” stressful, and 25 percent cite it as the No. 1 stressor in their lives today, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health. Traditional incentives such as salary increases have been half of what they were in the late 1990s (if there are any increases at all), and benefits such as 401(k)'s are diminishing.

Don't be surprised if statistics like this soon lead to a mass exodus from some companies. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found 83 percent of employees — including top performers — saying that they plan to look for a new job as the economy improves.

The irony of this undercurrent of stress and distress in the workplace is that it wouldn't take that much to change things. The first step would be to show employees you care about them — to thank them for their efforts. Ask them how you can help them be more successful in their jobs. Ask for their ideas on how things could be improved. And when you ask their opinion, be receptive. Remember, an open door policy doesn't do much for a closed mind.

Give your employees the information they need to do their jobs better, and involve them in decisions — especially decisions that affect them. Identify ways to help employees learn and grow in their current positions.

A big one: Consider giving employees more flexibility in their working hours. Gallup has found that 83 percent of employees say they want more time with their families, while 60 percent report feeling pressure to work too much.

It's never too late to do the right thing. In the end, everyone wants to work in a job that they can be excited about, making a contribution and being part of something larger than themselves. Even if you haven't always been the easiest person to work for, your employees might welcome your efforts and give you and the job another chance.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego, and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, Managing For Dummies, and his latest book The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook: The Complete Guide. For more info or to obtain any of Bob's books or e-documents, visit or call (800) 575-5521. Contact Bob directly at