With the latest wave of belt-tightening and layoffs, motivating employees has toppled back to the bottom of the priority list for some managers. When you're overworked, with less staff and less time, there's little room for the warm fuzzies.

On the contrary, experts such as CMI columnist Bob Nelson (who wrote the book on motivation, literally, with 1,000 Ways to Reward Employees) say it's even more important in the current business climate to keep people motivated. It can be as simple as a few words of focused, meaningful praise for a job well done. It doesn't have to take time — and it doesn't have to cost you a thing.

In this month's interview, Stephen C. Lundin and Harry Paul, co-authors of the best-selling business parable Fish!, discuss the growing grass-roots movement within companies to make work more fun, in spite of the present economy. It doesn't take much, they say, to keep morale up — a simple, playful event, along the lines of a “Bring Your Pet to Work Day,” can go far.

One company that knows how to treat its people in down times is Razorfish, the subject this month's cover story. Just days after COO Jean-Philippe Maheau laid off some 400 “fish,” as they are called, he was back out in the field pumping up the survivors. The cover story shows how far this company will go to motivate its people — all the way to Costa Rica, where 30 participants who were considered Razorfish's rising stars, found themselves on an Outward Bound Adventure. The participants were hand-picked by the heads of the company's 15 offices in nine countries. Don't miss their story, beginning on page 18.

What can you do that's easy, quick, and inexpensive? Among the techniques we've mentioned in recent issues: Let employees nominate each other for a half-day off as a reward for some special contribution; encourage a star on your team to run for office in an industry association and act as campaign manager; or list one exceptional employee on each day of your calendar and make a call a day to say thank you. One company president always leaves a mysterious Twinkie on the desk of someone who has just done a great job. Have fun with it!

You can start right now. Turn to the back page, under the headline “Just Think,” and use one of the 10 phrases we've listed to praise an employee who deserves it. You'll feel better, he or she will feel better — and then you can both get back to work.