Workers just want to feel appreciated.

That’s the No. 1 factor impacting employees’ satisfaction with their employers, according to data released Tuesday by compensation data and software provider PayScale www.payscale.com. It tops good communication, career development, pay and the company’s future outlook to take the top spot.

“Appreciation is key: An employee feeling appreciated or unappreciated moves the needle on satisfaction more than any other variable,” the report notes.

What’s more, showing appreciation to your employees is simple — and often free. There are the obvious things like employee awards, but there are other ways that are sometimes even more effective. Have bosses give employees one-off notes or thank-you cards praising them when they’ve done a good job and saying exactly what was so great about the work they did, says Chris Martin, the lead data analyst for PayScale. And he adds, make sure bosses are trained to give regular, positive feedback for performing employees.

It’s also important to show workers that you care about their lives. “An attorney friend of mine was recently hired by a new firm, and when I asked him how he liked it, he immediately mentioned receiving a postcard from his boss on the birth of his child; that postcard, and the thought behind it–that his boss was aware of the baby, and acknowledged a growing family–meant the world to my friend. His salary, perks? Didn’t even mention it,” recounts New York City-based success strategist, Carlota Zimmerman. She adds that in her experience dealing with clients: “Money, and expense accounts, bonuses and first-class business trips come and go. But a boss who believes in you? A boss who cares? That’s life-changing.” Or, as executive coach Marc Dorio puts it, “why would anyone care to work for you if you don’t care for them.”

The appreciation, of course, must seem genuine, as “too often efforts to demonstrate appreciation are tokenized – a gift card, a trinket, or a public display of praise,” says Tomer Yogev, an executive coach at TandemSpring. “Instead, look to do or give something that is personal and meaningful … The more you can demonstrate a deep understanding of the employee as an individual, with unique strengths and passions, and put forward an honest effort to demonstrate your appreciation in a manner that is fitting of them, the more likely it is to be received and, in turn, that the employee will actually feel appreciated.”

And you can you show you appreciate employees by showing you have their backs — even when they mess up, says career coach Hallie Crawford, founder of HallieCrawford.com Career Coaching. “If they do something wrong don’t throw them under the bus, jump in and help them fix the problem, stand up for them (appropriately), talk to them about their career progression and how they can move forward.”