A few years ago I researched what employees really want. It was preparation for a workplace branding article. If you don’t have the time or resources to survey your own employees you can use general list to guide company employee relations activities. If you are considering a culture improvement project you will want to survey employees for their specific values and thoughts.
Top Ten Things Employees Want
While not every employee working today wants the following things, the list describes what fairly engaged employees are looking for at work. What poor-performing employees want would be a different list. Owners should pay attention to what top performers want as this is the group for which you want your workplace to be the most hospitable.
Employees are looking for the following, general characteristics in a workplace:
1. Interesting work content
Employees should know their own job responsibilities but you can also add annual goals that will change a bit each year. Consider adding an “annual goals” accountability to all job descriptions.
2. Advancement opportunities
Advancement doesn’t have to be jumping up to the next level of management. It can be a “lead” position responsible for helping to orient new staff or might have one or two new trainees reporting to them. It could also mean learning a new area through cross-training. Finally, It’s important to pay attention to guiding current employees who have the skills and capacity for the next level of management so that they are ready when opportunities arise.
3. Fair compensation
This means fair, not lavish and not a pittance. Employees in large companies are likely to understand how the company sets their employee compensation standard (market average, above average, etc.). But for small and medium-size companies employees just want to know that they are paid a fair wage. If employees are working without a salary increase for two years but senior management gets raises or are wasting company money, employees will quickly take notice.
4. Opportunities for enriched assignments
This can seem difficult in lean staffing times but cross-training and company-wide improvement projects can offer employees opportunities to learn new things, meet new co-workers and overall feel like they are growing. Good employees want the company to succeed and will pitch in when needed. Just make sure you are watching the duration of additional assignments and that individual workloads don’t stay too high for too long.
5. Strong leadership
If you are a leader who worries whether unpopular decisions make the company less appealing to strong performing employees, the answer is no. Employees understand that if you try to please individual employees the quality of poor decisions is limited only by the stupid things their co-workers ask for. Smart employees understand that their wants and wishes must be limited in favor of long-term company survival. Employees actually like it better when your articulate a set of quality and decision-making principles and then stick to them. The best thing to counter an unpopular decision is to explain the process and factors that went into the decision and how it supports sustained company success.
6. Opportunities to be heard by management
Employees want occasional access to upper management and attention to their concerns. This doesn’t mean the owner has to go to lunch with employees every day. It means that when an employee offers a great suggestion the owner should stop by, make eye contact and say how much their contribution was both important and appreciated. There are 1000 different ideas of how to do this. If you want ideas – Google “employee recognition and reward.”
7. High, consistent work standards
The better the employee (attitude and performance) the more they appreciate high performance standards. Every employee should have a copy of his/her current job description that lists the jobs accountability and end results expected for that position. In addition, supervisors should discuss progress throughout the year not just at annual performance reviews.
8. An employer with integrity/character
When a negative story is made public or if a company’s practices are generally thought of poorly in the community, employees take notice. In general, employees want to work for an employer who places emphasis on honesty and integrity. But it’s not enough to have written values or standards, the company has to use these values in all activities; encouraging employees who personify the values and counseling those who do not.
9. An employer known for quality service/products
Here we are talking about quality again. This time, the issue is product and service quality and customer/client satisfaction. Good employees take great pride in working for a company that pays attention to the quality of what they offer or produce. Engaged customers fit nicely with engaged employees. Have front-line employees participate in setting quality standards and make sure they understand exactly how quality is defined. Quality doesn’t have to be perfect but you should be measuring it and working to get the trend going in the right direction — up!
10. Freedom to make decisions affecting their work unit
Employees like to have a small piece of the company’s activities as their own, where they can make decisions and affect positive results. This doesn’t mean you have to push company decision-making to the lowest point possible but it does mean to be mindful of this in job design. If you articulate company goals and provide information about how company values should guide decision-making then let employees make decisions and take sensible risks. When they foul up, don’t shame and blame but explain where their process went wrong and send them out to try again, encouraged by your great supervisory intervention!