By: Jennifer Morrison

It’s the traditional time of year when businesses distribute yearly bonuses or end-of-year gifts to their employees, contractors, and freelance workers to say “thank you” for their hard work throughout the year. But what if instead of one check (that’s taxed at a ridiculous rate) or company branded swag, you—as the employer—spread your appreciation for your employees throughout the year?

Money Doesn’t Always Talk

You may be thinking, “Who doesn’t want money?” Of course, everyone wants money, but it can create two problems. The first problem is the limit of your company’s budget. If you can only afford to reward your employees and contractors once a year, generally at the end of the year, it can appear that the gift is one of obligation or expectation rather than true gratitude. People don’t want to feel like they’re a check on their employer’s to-do list. In 2014, The Atlantic reported that employees would rather receive non-monetary perks in lieu of more money. The second problem is the message you can send to your employees if you can’t afford to give a large monetary gift. Employees can interpret your financial gift as a reflection of their job performance and find it wanting.

So if you’re a small business with a limited budget, how can you say “thank you” to your employees for a job well done?

Say It Loud and Often

There’s a famous scene in Mad Men when Peggy Olson, a young and gifted copywriter, calls Don Draper out for his ungratefulness for her hard work, and he bitterly replies, “That’s what the money’s for!” Ouch! Whether you’re running a multi-million-dollar advertisement firm or a mom-and-pop shop, you wouldn’t be where you are without your employees. So while yes, they receive a paycheck to compensate them for their time and skills, you still should make it known year round that their hard work, innovation, and loyalty are appreciated. All Peggy wanted was for Don to say to her once in a while, “Great idea, Peggy! Thank you!” and most of your employees will also appreciate acknowledgment after pulling a late night at the office or meeting a quick turnaround deadline.

What Ways Can You Say “Thanks”?

Companies like Google, Facebook, and New Belgium Brewery get a lot of buzz for their amazing employee perks. Your company can implement similar programs that can cost you absolutely nothing. Popular rewards can include comp time for working late nights or on a special project, the option to work from home on occasion, and an invitation for employees to bring their pets into work. Another no-cost option is to highlight employees on your company’s social media accounts. A quick synopsis of your employee’s position, accomplishments, and personal interests along with a photo works not only to give a public “thank you,” but also to lend a face to the name for your customers. Highlighting your freelancers and contractors can also mean more business for them, which is always appreciated.

If you have money in your budget for gifts, unexpected rewards throughout the year make them that much sweeter. Treat your employees to a lunch on you, call the ice cream truck to your office and treat everyone to ice cream cones, or hire therapists from a local spa to give everyone chair massages.

A culture of gratitude can have a positive impact on the attitude within your company. Lead by example and you’ll most likely see your employees taking a moment to appreciate one another as well. It also helps keep employees’ morale on a steady level throughout the year. If you can’t create a culture of gratitude and reward for your employees, you’ll find it difficult to attract and retain the best of the best, which will surely affect the health and stability of your business.