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Low-Budget Ways to Reward Your Workers

But a party doesn't need to be pricey to serve its purpose. With everyone worried about the economy and their finances, workers will look forward to relaxing. Treating employees to a casual get-together outside the office gives them much-needed time off and builds camaraderie.

Depending on the size of your business, you can take everyone out for lunch at a local restaurant or organize a potluck dinner in which you pay for the main dish. Forget the cocktails and concentrate on creating a welcoming environment where everyone is encouraged to socialize.

Put your gratitude in writing: We've all gotten holiday cards that contain little more than a scrawled signature at the bottom, greetings so impersonal that we wonder why they were sent at all. This year, add some real meaning to the cards you send your employees. Write a personal message that tells them how much you appreciate their hard work, and give specific examples of how they helped the company. (If you can swing it, enclose a gift card from a local store or coffee shop for your top performers.)

Sure, some employees will still grumble about wage freezes or hour reductions. But if you show your star employees that you're doing your best to honor their contributions, they'll remember. And when higher-paying offers come their way a year or two down the road, they may choose to stick with the person who stepped up for them when times were hardest.

-- Reported by Elizabeth Blackwell in Chicago.
Elizabeth Blackwell is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She is the author of Frommer's Chicago guidebook, and writes for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago, and other national magazines.
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