What Today’s Employees Want from Their Managers

In today’s tough economy, employers are often at a loss as to how to compensate extraordinary employees and minimize turnover without access to the capital necessary to offer raises or better benefits.

However, underlying this common concern is the assumption that what employees value most is high wages. And given that rates of pay might be out of the hands of most managers, it’s an assumption that bears further investigation when it comes to rewarding and retaining the best members of your team!

Interestingly, the answer to the question of whether or not employers know how to best reward good employees comes not from recent research, but from a survey that was initially printed in 1946 in the “Foreman Facts” publication by the Labor Relations Institute of NY. The organization surveyed both employees and employers, asking them to rank the following ten factors in terms of their perceived importance in continuing an employment relationship.
The results – listed below – are quite surprising!

What Employers Think Their Employees Want

  1. Good wages
  2. Job security
  3. Promotion/growth opportunities
  4. Good working conditions
  5. Interesting work
  6. Personal loyalty to workers
  7. Tactful discipline
  8. Full appreciation for work done
  9. Sympathetic help with personal problems
  10. Feeling “in” on things

What Employees Actually Want

  1. Full appreciation for work done
  2. Feeling “in” on things
  3. Sympathetic help on personal problems
  4. Job security
  5. Good wages
  6. Interesting work
  7. Promotion/growth opportunities
  8. Personal loyalty to workers
  9. Good working conditions
  10. Tactful discipline

As you can see, there’s a significant disconnect between what employees want and what their managers think they want – a result that’s been duplicated in study after study over the past 60 years. Similar research conducted by Ken Kovach (1980); Valerie Wilson, Achievers International (1988); Bob Nelson, Blanchard Training & Development (1991); and Sheryl & Don Grimme, GHR Training Solutions (1997-2001) all came to the same conclusion – that employees value the emotional aspects of their workplaces as much as their financial compensation.

So, as a manager, how can you use these results to structure employee benefits and retain top workers? Consider any of the following tips:

Make staff recognition a priority

Whether you manage a team of five people or a company of 500, taking time out of your day for staff recognition can be a challenge. After all, you’ve got a “to do” list that’s miles long – why should you spend time thanking your employees for doing the work you’re already paying them to do?

The reality is that demonstrating appreciation for work that’s been completed consistently ranks as employees’ most desired employment perk – making this a simple way to retain top performers without resorting to financial incentives.

To get started, consider any of the following practices to help make staff recognition a priority:

  • Be present. It’s hard to recognize staff achievements if you spend all day cloistered away in your office. Get out on the floor, interact with your employees and look for opportunities to say “thank you” for jobs well done.
  • Establish recognition systems. Instead of making employee recognition a “one off” occurrence, institute systems that make acknowledgement a regular event. As an example, instituting a “gold star” type of program that recognizes one outstanding employee each week with some special perk is one way to show your continued commitment to staff recognition.
  • Delegate recognition to others. If you absolutely can’t fit a new recognition program into your own schedule, put others within your organization on the job! Ask your fellow managers or employees to notify you whenever something worthy of recognition occurs so that you can send a personal “thank you” to the staff member in question.

Really, “recognition” doesn’t have to include certificates, rewards or formal programs. Don’t underestimate the impact that a simple “thank you” offered in recognition of work well done can have on a team member’s job satisfaction.

Encourage transparency in business decisions

If you’ve ever worked for an organization in which all decisions occur behind closed doors – without the input of the people that any new policies implemented will affect most – you know how frustrating it can be to feel left out of important company changes!

There’s a reason that the desire to feel “in” on things ranks consistently high on lists of employee priorities. Your team members commit huge chunks of their lives to your organization. As a result, leaving them out in the cold whenever new policies are implemented minimizes their contributions and belittles their sense of commitment to your company.

And while it certainly isn’t realistic to bring employees into every decision that must be made, it’s important to at least clarify the reasoning behind any changes that will affect your working environment with your staff. They may not like the changes you’re making, but your employees will be more likely to understand and respect your changes if you make an effort to create a more open and transparent decision-making process.

Recognize the impact of personal commitments on job performance

Finally, take a look at #3 on the list of employee priorities listed above. “Sympathetic help with personal problems” might seem a bit touchy-feely for modern employees, but what your staff members actually want is for you to cut them some slack when they’re dealing with serious personal issues.

At any given time, members of your staff might be dealing with everything from serious financial issues to personal health problems to the loss of dearly-loved family members. If you’ve dealt with any of these issues yourself, you know how difficult it can be to focus on work and perform at a high level when you’re distracted by personal problems. It’s not that you’re a bad employee – it’s just that temporary personal problems are preventing you from committing fully to your job at the time.

Obviously, there’s a big difference between a great employee whose work suffers temporarily due to a personal problem and a consistently low performer whose inadequacies can’t be traced to an underlying issue. But really, you won’t know which type of employee you’re dealing with unless you take the time to ask questions – rather than jumping immediately to disciplinary action.

By taking the time to understand what’s going on in your employees’ lives – as well as how you can recognize their accomplishments and help them feel like an important part of your organization – it’s possible to implement HR policies that increase morale and job satisfaction without bumping up pay rates or offering benefits that your company can’t truly afford. When you look at your business’s bottom line, it’s clear that you can’t afford to ignore these powerful ideas!

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