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(Editor’s note: John Amato is CEO of Marketsharing. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

In the highly competitive world of attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees, it’s understood that salaries, health care and vacation time top many perk wish lists. As things like raise freezes, bonus cutbacks and fewer stock options have become economically necessary, though, it has become harder to keep people motivated.

Last month Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that almost 20 percent of surveyed companies restored all pre-recession perks and only 40 percent brought back some of those that were cut. Yet even with some companies reporting this “benefit bounceback,” a sea change has occurred and the perks are returning — but in different ways.

In both good times and bad, most companies want their employees to see that work is more than a paycheck, and ideally want workers invested in their organization’s corporate culture and future.  In turn, they have to create that environment and culture for their employees. In Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” 2011 rankings, the most popular words workers used when citing their company as a truly great place to work were people, family and time. Pay fell at number 81.

While tech powerhouses Google and Facebook have become wildly successful, they have also created strong company cultures that have become equally popular. Not surprisingly, startups have adopted and fostered their model of casual yet hardworking offices where employees want to go every day. This model is becoming the future workplace for businesses of all sizes across the country.

With that in mind, here are five surefire (and economical) ways to motivate employees besides salary and stock:

Flexibility – There’s no price on time. In addition to offering the standard three paid weeks off, many companies are enhancing this benefit with paid sabbaticals after an established amount of time or the ability to work remotely. Summer hours, flex time and allowing pets at work, none of which are new, are still at the top of potential employees’ workplace benefit wish lists. The cost is little to nothing, but can help a good workplace become great in the eyes of employees.

Food, glorious food – The concept of on campus/in office meal programs were conceived to create happy, satiated employees that don’t have to leave the office for an hour to hit up Taco Bell. While installing a state of the art Google cafeteria isn’t an option for most workplaces, providing meals on the company – or even offering free snacks and beverages – shows appreciation, encourages a healthy environment, and makes the workplace that much more enjoyable.

Acknowledgement (and random acts of kindness) – Everyone likes to be acknowledged. A recent report by Success Performance Solutions revealed that 55 percent of employees agree or strongly agree that the quality of their company’s recognition efforts impacts their job performance.

This can be something more than singling out a top performer with a Starbucks gift card. Bestowing your 20 person office with massages, a group happy hour at the nearby watering hole, or tickets to a Giants game will add an element of surprise and genuine delight to those bestowed this (relatively) inexpensive benefit. In turn, the gesture will encourage camaraderie, boost morale, keep employees feeling motivated and valued, and have them looking forward to the next office surprise.

Encourage health – While it’s not realistic for most workplaces to install a gym, employers can still encourage and reward employees who wish to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle to keep their work/life balance firmly in check. Great discounts on gym memberships are one highly valued benefit in the workplace. Additionally, physical team building events and intramural leagues like dodgeball, soccer, softball and even bowling, add an element of physical as well as social activity for an alternative to the usual happy hour on any given night.

The environment – Creative and imaginative employees need to work in an environment that reflects their skills and personalities. Studies (and many of your own offices) show that we’re dramatically shifting from offices and cubicle farms, to open, interactive spaces with light, color, positive energy and comfortable areas within the office to relax and take a break.

About the author: John Amato is the CEO of MarketSharing, a premium business-to-business deals provider for exceptional business products and services. Follow @MarketSharing on Twitter for more information and the latest deals for businesses

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