Question: What are some ways I can motivate people who work for me during these hard economic times without spending too much of the company’s money?

Answer: You’re certainly not alone in your situation. In challenging economic conditions, many small businesses need to ask more from their employees even though they’re unable to compensate their workers with lavish financial rewards. But there are cost-effective ways to boost morale and productivity:

- Flexible work hours. Not every employee fits the conventional nine-to-five niche. Letting people start work a bit earlier or leave later than usual shows you want to do what you can to help balance their personal and professional lives.

- Family days. No one likes to lose paid time off because his or her child is in an afternoon play at school. Family days allow employees to take time off for snow days or important family events without using up vacation or sick days.

- Let’s play! Putting a foosball or pool table in the break room is a cost-effective way for employees to let off steam.

- Snack time. Offer healthy treats — whole-grain muffins, fruits, juice and the like — once a week. An added plus — make the snacks available early in the day, so only early arrivals get to indulge.

- Mail room. Let your employees know they can use your in-house postal services. They still have to pay postage, but it beats having to schlep to the post office.

- Free seminars. Professionals such as financial planners and fitness experts are always looking for ways to promote their services. Have them come talk to your people — the seminars are generally free of charge, and your employees may get something valuable out of them.

- Community service days. Many people want to work for a company that gives back. Offer employees a few paid days each year to take part in community or charitable activities.

- Employee referral rewards. If a current employee recommends a new hire, give him or her an extra day off if the newbie stays for at least six months.

- Loaner computers. Let your employees know they’re free to take their laptops home with them. This presents not only a sign of trust on your part, but a potential productivity boost as well.

A morale boost doesn’t have to mandate a trip to Fort Knox. There are any number of affordable ways to show you genuinely care about your employees. What better motivation could you ask for?