With the national unemployment rate at 9%, we're set to close out 2011 with workers still on edge. As an executive, it's up to you to help calm fears among your employees about this economy, and to get them to help your business stay competitive.Managing the finances often seems like a heads-down, stick-to-your-knitting activity. But as we've reported here before, you're being asked to take on more responsibilities. Therefore, it's up to you to ensure that employees are invested in the future of your business.That investment happens when workers feel they are appreciated and that they are making a difference. Both those things inevitably lead to greater productivity and open the doors to creative thinking.I worked at Network World, a division of CFOworld.com's parent company, International Data Group, for nearly a decade. During that time, I was encouraged -- pretty much daily -- to contribute ideas that would expand the overall business. From helping to build out the magazine's site in the early days of the Web to developing new content for our technology seminars, I was able to directly affect the growth of my department. Executives made sure that teams and individuals were congratulated and all successes were shared with the company. This fostered an environment where ideas were welcomed and rewarded.Now, not all our ideas were smash hits. There was a lot of stuff that "fell off the wall." But the executive team heard us out, debated the merits and drawbacks of our plans, and encouraged us to rethink our approach. We were always accepted back at the table with revamped strategies.What I learned from this experience was that having people at the helm who are open to ideas leads a person to want to innovate. I wanted our magazine, website, and events to succeed. I was eager to work with my teammates to chart that path. And it wasn't about monetary rewards. A simple "thank you" or "job well done" often was enough to continue the brainstorming.Doors were open and people were listening. That was the message my executives imparted. I believe this approach is what will get companies through these uncertain times and ease anxiety -- especially as budgets limit cash bonuses and promotions. If you, as leaders, can instill in your employees a sense that they matter, and their creativity is essential, then you can ride out this downturn. Perhaps all your employees need is a little giving of thanks.Feel free to email me with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.