Startup entrepreneurs live, eat and breathe their companies. Catching a quick catnap under your desk counts as a good night's sleep. But how do you get the same level of commitment from mere employees?

Typically, the answer has been to award them significant chunks of the company in the form of stock and options. It’s not just greed. Sharing equity in your business early on can lead to complex problems as your company grows. Luckily, there are ways to motivate workers without giving away the store.

1. Show them you care. Tech entrepreneurs are notorious for their lack of social skills, so if you’ve got your head buried in your laptop all day, pull it out and spend some time with your team. Find out about the personal stuff. Ask what they like to do in their free time. (Not only will this help you better bond with your team, but it will also give you new ideas for how to motivate them.) Managing by walking around isn’t a quaint idea from the 1990s, and shouldn’t just be lip service.

2. Tailor your rewards. Not everyone is motivated by the same stuff. By finding out what your employees like to do, you can tailor how you reward them to match their interests. (And you lower the possibility of making an oafish mistake, like giving a recovering alcoholic a bottle of wine.) For example, if one of your guys is a surf nut, cut him slack to hit the waves early in the morning. If another employee loves baseball, tickets to the local team’s next game - and the afternoon off to attend it - could go a long way to keeping her revved up.

3. Give the gift of time. Employees at a growing tech startup don’t get much time off, so when you do hit some downtime, let your team take advantage of it. If everyone’s been crunching on a project all weekend, let them come in late on Monday. Finish a big job? Celebrate by sending everyone home early. Yes, they might be back working early the next morning, but they’ll be more refreshed.)

4. Get flexible. When you can, let your staff work from home, from Starbucks, from the beach or wherever. In the early stages of a startup, it does often help to all be in a room together, but when the project doesn’t call for that, be flexible. Even if you do need your entire team to work in one place, that place doesn’t have to be your company’s office. Sometimes you can get more out of people by changing the scenery. With Wi-Fi just about everywhere today, you may be able to work at your apartment’s pool, your favorite bar or a park.

5. Be understanding. If you’re going to make extraordinary demands of your team (and we all know you are), there will come a time when they crack. Learn to spot the signs that someone is about to go over the edge, and take steps to deal with the situation before it gets out of control. Whether a team member needs to vent, run out the door (literally) or just knock off for the day, let them do what they need to get back in the game.

6. Barter for stuff. Trade favors with other business owners you know to get perks for your team. For example, you might offer to update a spa’s website in return for them giving your team massages every Friday. Get creative.

7. Eat, drink and be merry. When all else fails, don’t underestimate the healing power of hanging out. No, it’s not free, but a little recreational togetherness is relatively cheap. Bring in pizza, have Friday keggers or head out for happy hour once in a while — on you. It’s an affordable investment in your employees’ sanity that will pay off in greater dedication and productivity. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.