As the skills gap in technology widens and companies struggle to find enough qualified workers to fill vacant seats, many have had to turn to offering unlimited vacations, free catered lunches, and other flashy perks to retain tech talent. But despite all these efforts, employees still report low engagement levels, according to research by Gallup.

So what is the secret to keeping workers happy and engaged at work? It may have a lot to do with how their managers interact with them on a day to day basis, according to a recent study by Appirio, a cloud service provider based in Indianapolis. Launched in 2006, Appirio portfolio includes application development, support and managed services, as well as cloud products that help its customers make the most of Salesforce, Google and Workday.

The study finds that money certainly isn’t everything when it comes to attracting and retaining talent – and managers actually play a huge role in keep employees happy and engaged, which in turn has an impact on customer satisfaction, or what Appirio likes to call the “virtuous cycle.”

“We’re learning more and more, and I think our customers are learning more and more, that the worker experience and the customer experience are inextricably linked,” Ellen Humphrey, SVP, Human Resources, Appirio said in an interview with Talkin’ Cloud.

“The role of manager, and we think also the role of how technology is used in the workplace can really support employee engagement and then support customer experience,” she said.

While Humphrey said the research showed compensation and benefits remain important, what workers value above all else is what she calls emotional safety at work.

According to Humphrey, who has been at Appirio for almost a year, workers really “value a culture of appreciation, really value managers who take an interest in them, who act as their advocate, and value that more so than what companies may have traditionally thought was important such as comp and benefits.”

Giving your managers the tools to show appreciation – not only through training, but also through technology, is also important. One example of a cloud-based technology that enables this is a social collaboration platform, which Humphrey says can help managers show recognition. These platforms and tools make it “so easy to do a shout out in a team setting” and to “say thank you to someone in a real and concrete way,” Humphrey says. Bonus: it doesn’t cost any extra money.

Other ways managers can show appreciation is to schedule regular time to interact with employees and show interest in helping them track their progress to meeting goals.

“The easiest thing to do for employees, and you might be able to argue the least expensive, are the ones that have the biggest impact in this space,” Humphrey says. “These aren’t new ideas but sometimes [we] need a reminder of their importance.”

The most engaged employees at an organization know that their manager has their back and are given credit for a job well done, Humphrey explains.

So what are three things that managers can start doing today to improve employee engagement? Here’s what Humphrey thinks is important. 

  1. Say thank you – These two simple words can mean a lot to showing employees they are appreciated.
  2. Say thank you again – “Don’t forget to show appreciation,” Humphrey says.
  3. Offer flexibility wherever it’s appropriate – The employees who feel the most appreciated are the ones who feel they have control over how they get their work done.