Ten Things Employees Want from Work

What do employees want most?

Employee satisfaction is something most companies say they want.  Few actually set a specific goal to measure or increase satisfaction.  The ironic thing is that the more satisfied your employee group is the better they will perform.  Good performance means goals are met, productivity is higher and employees are happier. All good things.

If you want your workplace to appeal to quality employees and perhaps be less hospitable to those with destructive tendencies, pay attention to this list. Studies over time have identified some variation of the following 10 employee satisfaction themes which appeal most to good performers.

1.  Interesting work content

This means interesting to employees, not what you think is interesting.  Companies must pay attention to job design and assemble jobs in a meaningful way. It’s obvious that  repetitive, boring tasks are less interesting though they might lead technically, to high productivity. Modern job design principles can strike a balance between employee needs and productivity. Finally, negotiating interesting projects and goals each year adds variety to the normal job duties. Recruitment plays an important role in job interest. Not everyone loves what they do. It’s certainly lucky when you fit the perfect candidate to every job. A good fit is when the skills and approach of the candidate matches the skills and approach required by the position.  The better the fit, the more likely the employee will find value and interest in the assignment.

2.  Advancement opportunities

This is pretty straightforward. Promotions needn’t be a huge leap to the next level of management.  It can be advancing to the position of trainer –  perhaps someone who orients new department staff. There are many ways to carve out additional or more complicated duties for those who show capacity. But when opportunity presents itself, those with the qualifications should be considered for supervisory posts or movement to the next management level. The better you can outline what employees have to do to advance, the happier they will be.

3.  Fair compensation

Compensation fairness in the eyes of employees is primarily external competitiveness – what employees think or know other companies are paying. During tough economic times, however, a living wage at the lower levels is also needed for employees to feel their wages are fair. Appropriate salary levels are driven by balancing four factors: the market, what the company can afford to pay, job duties and internal equity.  Finally, reasonable employees want to see that the best performers get opportunities for additional pay and that folks doing the same work get relatively similar pay.  Just fair, not perfect.

4.  Opportunities for enriched assignments

Enriched assignments involve a seat on a company-wide committee, planning a company outing or working on a project that exposes employees to people and processes in other departments. Good performers enjoy making a broader contribution and being a part of a new venture or project.  They also enjoy meeting new people and learning about things outside their own department. While employees enjoy this, it also develops them and makes them more valuable employees.

5.  Strong leadership

This is where owners and senior leadership staff often fail.  Employees appreciate when management decisions are clear, decisive and based upon a set of principles like:company goals, ethics, fairness and respect. When one employee intimidates management into giving them something they don’t deserve, coworkers will take notice. I’ve listened to employees explain that even though something didn’t go their way they can respect a decision based upon a worthy goal of program sustainability or long-term company survival. In addition, they trust that management won’t get drawn into unfair decisions that serve the unreasonable requests of one particular employee.  They see that management has courage and clear thinking that will sustain the organization over time. When leaders adhere to principles and apply them consistently the best employees will be satisfied. Selfish or egocentric employees will fail attempts to skew decisions toward their personal needs.

6.  To be heard by management

High performers want to feel that their ideas and concerns are taken seriously. They have good ideas and observations.  They’ve performed well for the company so the company should take a minute to hear them out.  It’s okay if you can’t resolve a problem for business reasons.  They’ll understand that.  Employees want to know that you understand and value what they’ve said. This includes less stellar performers as well. No matter how annoying a particular employee may be, it really pays to listen respectfully to their concerns, investigate issues and change things when warranted. Every employee, including poor performers have thoughts and perspectives that can be valuable and deserve to feel heard. Human respect has no exceptions.

When you treat someone disrespectfully, even someone other employees find annoying, employees will notice. You are running the business and they expect you to have more patience.Two common mistakes vex both managers and employees. One is that management listens, makes a decision and then the complaining employee refuses to move on.  They then bug the heck out of everyone by staying stuck on the issue. One good hearing is enough and then they should be told respectfully and firmly that the matter is closed. Management needs to prevent these folks from harassing coworkers about their ongoing issue.  The other mistake is from the opposite angle – writing difficult employees off and failing to listen to anything they have to say.  They can go on and on about irrelevant information and then, there it is, a disclosure of significant wrong-doing or a brilliant idea for saving money.  As a consultant brought in to deal with difficult employees I am often amazed at how an employee has been completely marginalized within a company.   You’d be surprised how often these employees are treated disrespectfully but yet they are still at work.  It is more cruel to leave these employees on the job while all around them see them has having no credibility, than it is to respectfully help them find another assignment.

7.  High, consistent work standards

Studies have shown that quality employees prefer to work in an organization that lays out performance and conduct standards and consistently reinforces them – through performance evaluations, coaching, supervision and structure. Employees think it’s fair when those whose work approach is successful and helpful to others get promoted and those who repeatedly demonstrate poor work approach are encouraged to move on.  Leaders afraid to apply discipline end up creating significant damage to an otherwise productive workplace – as one employee’s approach disrupts others without consequence.  Some owners have no idea how destructive this is and how much respect for them is lost when they apply performance consequences equitably.

8.  An employer with integrity/character

Studies have repeatedly shown that employees working for companies with a code of integrity and a sense of social responsibility to the community, employees and vulnerable populations are more satisfied and higher performing. Emphasizing lawfulness, ethics and fairness is very appealing to the most talented employees.  When a company puts secular/profit goals ahead of ethics you’ll fill jobs but these candidates will be individuals comfortable with that sort of atmosphere. Think: News of the World.  The most capable and high character employees will move on.

9.  An employer known and respected for high quality products/services

Employees are happiest when they work for an employer known for producing high quality products or services. There is a sense of pride in knowing their coworkers and leaders value quality and take the time to make high quality a part of the culture. Companies who produce high quality goods and services spend time ensuring everyone understands what defines quality in their business; making sure employees produce high quality results; providing feedback and measurement demonstrating when quality standards are met. We all know the companies or organizations in our local communities that are seen as taking the time and energy to produce great things. These are typically where community members want to work and where they welcome the question – Where do you work?

10.  Freedom to make decisions that will help reach company goals

This is a very successful and important strategy.  When done well, employees become more satisfied overnight. Decision-making begins at the top (owner) and trickles down.  Every position, including clerical staff have a body of problems and issues they can decide when and how to resolve. Organizations with a decentralized decision-making style promote more meaningful decisions at lower levels. Companies with centralized control have a more difficult time defining meaningful decisions for those at the lower levels.  In any event, it pays to clarify and point out what decisions each position can make and which ones you wish for them to analyze and recommend to the next level up. Employees care more about knowing what issues you want them to exercise discretion over as much or more than they want to make big decisions.  Uncertainty is one of the greatest sources of employee stress.

No one company or organization does all ten things perfectly.  Pick out which of these areas you can easily fix and prioritize the others for improvement over time.

(c) 2012 BCSPublishing all rights reserved

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One Comment

  1. Very good article that presents positive actions and attitudes for avoiding burnout in the work place. This is particularly helpful for management to put in place strategies for their employees.

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