Numerous studies have linked employee happiness with productivity and business success.

A 2012 Harvard Business Review article described an analysis of 225 academic studies that drew a strong correlation between life satisfaction and successful business outcomes.

Meanwhile, there are many factors beyond compensation and benefits that contribute to happiness.

According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study, among these are respectful treatment, trust between employees and management, and management feedback.

So it’s critical for entrepreneurs and managers at enterprises of all sizes to find ways to promote employee happiness and to promote job satisfaction outside the confines of compensation and benefits.

Bonus points for creativity

Bosses have wrestled seemingly forever with finding the right ways to show team members they care.

There are, of course, the old standbys – happy hours, gift certificates and handwritten thank you notes. There’s nothing wrong with these gestures, they’re all appreciated.

But it’s worth the time and effort to get more creative, to demonstrate thoughtfulness in ways employees will long remember. The result is usually more happy, loyal and productive employees who will tell others in conversation or online what a great firm yours is to work for, making your recruiting job that much easier.

Plus, there are many ways to reward employees that don’t cost a lot, which is especially important for cash-strapped startups.

Here are a few budget-friendly ideas to consider if you want to elevate your employee appreciation game:

1. Provide reference letters without being asked. Print one on company letterhead and slip it in the old inbox, or post a referral on LinkedIn for all the world to see.

2. Acknowledge social media activity. Pay attention to the philanthropic projects, athletic events, children’s achievements and other personal milestones your employees are talking about on Facebook and their other channels.

Make sure you and the company show support by acknowledging these happenings; take your engagement to the next level by donating to their causes and rallying attendance at their events.

3. Adopt a cause. These days, it is widely known that people expect their employer to demonstrate corporate social responsibility. One way to do this is to pick a cause important to many of your employees (ask them for their ideas) and go all in on supporting it.

Don’t just write checks; encourage employees to actively engage with the nonprofit(s) of choice. You could even give them paid time off to volunteer in aid of the cause. Write up their efforts in blog posts, newsletters and social media.

4. Listen. Sometimes people just need to feel heard, so start by listening. Schedule one-on-one meetings with people throughout the organization, not just your direct reports, and just listen. Don’t feel the need to promise anything, don’t try to explain why things are the way they are. You’d be surprised how much goodwill you can generate just by listening.

5. Solicit solutions. Encourage employees to identify business challenges and submit their solutions. Enter those who participate into a drawing for an award and give a special prize to anyone whose solution is chosen for implementation.

6. Act on criticism. Give employees a chance to submit criticisms anonymously. Share the criticisms with everyone and tell them how you plan to address them. Employees will love the resulting transparency.

7. Think of partners. When your team members are pulling long hours at the office, their significant others might be the ones making the greater sacrifice, especially if they have kids. Thanking those left home alone with a note, gift or dinner delivery might buy you more goodwill than just acknowledging your employee.

8. Give custom gifts. If you’re going to give someone a gift, make it count. You should know your employees well enough to be aware of their interests and worries, and you can make a gift accordingly meaningful.

If a team member is a wine enthusiast, send her to a wine-tasting event. Say you’ve got a car nut on the team, surprise him by having his wheels detailed while he’s stuck in the office. Thoughtfulness like this won’t be forgotten easily.

9. Feed them. When the team is working on a big project, grinding from dawn to dark thirty, it’s hard to break for meals. Take care of lunch so your people don’t go hungry while putting their noses to the grindstone for you.

10. Drop in on the road. If you have employees in multiple locations, don’t go anywhere near another office without paying any team members there a visit. While doing this builds a ton of goodwill, neglecting this common-sense gesture leaves a long-lasting negative impression.

11. Promote good health. If you can get employees to take better care of their bodies, they’ll be grateful and possibly even more productive as well. Consider bringing in a nutritionist for a healthy eating seminar, or try hosting a periodic before-hours yoga class at the office. Maybe some of these concepts will take root and result in long-lasting health benefits.

So there you have it, 11 potentially new ways to show your employees you care. Notice we aren’t talking about anything terribly expensive – no extravagant team outings or big cash bonuses.

In fact, some of these ideas don’t cost a dime. If anything, when it comes to employee happiness, it’s the thoughtfulness, not the cost, that counts.

Jacob Dayan
Jacob Dayan is CEO and co-founder of Community Tax, a full service tax company helping U.S. customers with tax resolution, tax preparation, bookkeeping and accounting. He previously worked on Wall Street as an options analyst and as a foreign exchange trader. Jacob holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.