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RISMEDIA, Jan. 4, 2007-(MCT)-At its California headquarters, employees at Google Inc. rest their buns on heated toilet seats. A wireless button on the stall door activates a bidet and dryer.

But you don't have to spend a fortune to make your employees feel fortunate.

There are many ways a small business can improve morale, build loyalty and make employees feel warm and fuzzy about where they work without hurting the bottom line.

And those low-cost perks can pay a business owner back many times over, said Amy Lyman, chairwoman of the board of the San Francisco-based Great Place to Work Institute.

"Look at turnover costs, recruiting costs (and) absenteeism that comes with diminished loyalty," she said, "then think of the $100 here or the $200 there that you spend to help employees feel connected to the company.

"I think there are always business owners who don't fully understand the human side of business, and they may be the ones missing out on these benefits."

What keeps a telemarketer at the same job for 15 years?

Julianne Dalayanis says the longevity of employees at Suarez Industries, the North Canton direct-marketing firm, speaks volumes about the value of making employees feel special.

"They're the most family-friendly employer you'll ever work for. I know that's what makes me stay," said Dalayanis, the company's human resources director.

Bosses annually grill up dogs and burgers in the parking lot. There are fitness programs on site, group activities to benefit charities and movie ticket giveaways. Call center workers are treated to lunch twice a month; cold bottled water is kept on hand for warehouse workers.

General manager Michael Giorgio said the perks are a recognition that each individual contributes to the firm's success.

Stick to fundamentals

While looking for inexpensive and fun ways to build loyalty, don't overlook the foundation of any great work environment, said Marty Oppenheimer of Akron's SCORE chapter, where retired executives give free counsel to small businesses.

That's a clear job description, continuous education and opportunity for advancement, and defined goals with rewards attached to them.

Employees who understand they have a stake in their company are also more likely to feel pride.

At Innis Maggiore, an ad agency based in Canton, everyone attends "Client Cafe" twice a month.

"Some employees — say, the administration staff or financial staff or office staff — don't often get involved in the strategic or creative process with the client," President Dick Maggiore said, "and this gives them that chance."

While clients have dedicated teams assigned to them, the luncheon gives a featured client the opportunity to talk about products and services to all Innis Maggiore employees.
"Since we're about innovation and ideas, we know insight can come from anyone at the agency," Maggiore said.

Keep events exciting

Staff appreciation events are common — so much so that they can become predictable and downright boring.

So A. David Anthony Salon + Spa tries to find ways to surprise its 34 employees each year.

Previous appreciation parties were based on the MTV Music Awards and the Academy Awards, where employees were feted like celebrities, said Peggy Sinibaldi of the Lorain salon.

Pre-dinner activities included walking down a red carpet and being interviewed on camera about their accomplishments.

Last year, the employer spent far less but still got rave reviews for a party at a cooking school, where a group cooking lesson was followed by management serving up the meal.

"Because we're in a creative field, we want to do something creative to show our appreciation for them," Sinibaldi said.

While you're thinking about what you can do for your employees, consider whether your products or services can be marketed to another company's work force.

There are dry cleaners that pick laundry up on site. Health clubs that offer corporate discount rates. Pharmacies that deliver to workplaces.

Everyone from financial advisers to yoga instructors can see whether there's enough interest in one company to warrant on-site instruction-and the host company gets credit for making life a little easier for its workers.

But not every perk is a good idea, warned Oppenheimer of Akron SCORE.

"Let's say you have a weekly lunch," Oppenheimer said. "Once you get it, you start to expect it forever."

Then if the lunch has to be axed during a bad business cycle, employees may not look fondly on the fact that it was provided at all. They'll only remember that it was taken away.

Lyman said there can be particularly bad feelings if the perk being withdrawn has been incorporated into one's lifestyle.

For instance, working parents may come to depend on a sick child care center, where the company picks up the tab for day care so the parent of an ill child can still go to work. Others may come to rely on a fitness or weight-loss program.

"Those are the kinds of things you want to think about carefully when you put in place because you don't want to pull away something people have come to depend on," Lyman said.

But she also hopes bosses won't shy away from offering them.

"Those kinds of things are really in the employee's and the employer's best interest," she said. "They're win-win benefits."

Copyright © 2006, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.