What Employees Really Want (And How To Give It To Them)

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With all the research and literature on employee engagement, it’s amazing that so many companies still get it wrong.

Employee engagement can’t be an afterthought anymore. It has clear and measurable impacts on your company’s bottom-line. Companies spend obscene amounts of money trying to measure engagement and “move the needle,” without any real long term results.

That’s simply because they’re doing it wrong.

An extra bonus check or pizza party won’t really make much of a difference if the core issues are never fully addressed. Companies would be wise to focus on these (free) intrinsic motivators.

Engagement isn’t something you “fix”. It’s really a long term commitment that needs to be taken seriously by everyone in the company. The analogy I always use is if you woke up one day and realized you had gained a lot of weight, you wouldn’t make an appointment at the gym a year later. You would work on improving yourself every single day, eating healthier and exercising regularly, measuring your results along the way.

Something like an annual survey or annual performance review doesn’t make sense anymore. Too much happens in between the year to only look at it once during the year.

So then the question becomes, what do employees really want? What are they really looking for?

1. Personal Growth
“The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table: Pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work. Once you do that, it turns out there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. – Dan Pink”

Made famous by Dan Pink with his book Drive and his TED talk The Puzzle Of Motivation, autonomy, mastery, and purpose are all important for personal growth.

First, let’s define what these three things mean.

● Autonomy – “The desire to direct our own lives”

○ To satisfy their need for Autonomy, you can let employees pick their next project, or let them mentor a newer employee.

● Mastery – “The urge to become better at something”

○ To satisfy their need for Mastery, you can encourage them to take courses online, or more senior employees could spend some time mentoring them.

● Purpose – “Feeling like you’re part of something bigger”

○ To satisfy their need for Purpose, you need to be constantly reminding employees what the bigger vision of the company is, and more importantly what role they play in achieving that vision.

2. Good Relationships With Coworkers
A study on the effects of being ignored at work, found that it’s just as bad, if not worse than being bullied.

The study found that “having no role to play in work culture was more detrimental to one’s well-being than having a negative role to play.”

Little things, like saying good morning to your coworkers, or inviting them out to lunch with you can really go a long way. Everyone just wants to feel included. This is especially important for new hires, who are so nervous about this new environment, and just want to fit in.

Companies should change their onboarding processes and educate every employee in the company on how important of an issue this is, and how everyone needs to be friendly with each other.

A doctoral thesis by researcher Helen Stockhult, Employees in dialogue: A study on the willingness to do more than the formally expected, found that “social relationships between colleagues are at the root of an employee’s willingness to take on responsibilities beyond their formal job description”.

Similarly, Gallup found that if you have a best friend at your work, you’re much more motivated and productive.

Officevibe released an infographic about friendships at work, and some of the data on there was very interesting. For example:

● 70% of employees say friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life.
● 58% of men would refuse a higher paying job if it meant not getting along with coworkers. 74% of women said the same.
● 25% increase in employee morale and productivity for simple things like larger lunch tables.
● 50% of employees with a best friend at work reported that they feel a strong connection with their company.

3. Recognition And Praise
In the book How Full Is Your Bucket by Donald Clifton, looking at 40 years of research on recognition and praise, he found that the number one reason people leave their jobs is from not feeling appreciated.

This is the simplest thing you can do to increase engagement, and yet 65% of Americans received no recognition in the workplace last year.

According to research from Deloitte:

● Organizations with a strong employee recognitions approach are 12x more likely to have strong business results.
● Organizations with effective recognition programs had 31% lower voluntary turnover than organizations with ineffective recognition programs.

4. Frequent Feedback
First, let’s look at some data from Deloitte:

● 14.9% lower turnover rates in companies that implement regular employee feedback.
● 4 out of 10 workers are actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback.
● 65% of employees said they wanted more feedback

Have you ever heard of Google’s Project Oxygen? Without going into too much detail, they poured through hundreds of surveys, performance reviews, etc. to try and find qualities that make up a good manager.

The number one trait on the list: Be a good coach.

Employees want managers to provide specific feedback and have regular one-on-one meetings with them.

How To Give Employees What They Want
The truth is, implementing and focusing on these things doesn’t require an insane effort, and doesn’t cost a thing. The biggest challenge is simply being mindful of all of this, and making sure that you’re staying consistent in your approach.

The first step to improving anything is to measure it. The best example of a company that knows how to measure employee engagement in order to improve it is Google. They are light-years ahead of any HR department because of the sophistication of their people analytics.

1. The Net Promoter Score
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is originally a customer service tool.

The way it works, is you ask a customer a simple question: “On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our product/service to a friend?”

Scores 6 or lower are known as detractors, 6-8 are known as neutral, and 8-10 are known as promoters. To get your score, you take the number of promoters, minus the number of detractors, and divide by the total number of answers.

In product management, it’s the best way to know if your product is actually good, because the theory is, if someone is willing to recommend your product to a friend, then they actually like it.

Instead of using it for customer service, use it to gauge how employees really feel about your company.

I’ve spoken with the godfather of NPS, Rob Markey from Bain & Company:

2. Focus On Core Values
Your core values are what will guide you through everything. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed as an employee working at companies with incredible cultures and others without a good culture is their focus on values.

It’s incredibly demotivating to not really have a mission, and switch priorities on a whim.

3. Foster Friendships At Work
Another thing I’ve noticed that separates forward-thinking companies from old-school, backwards thinking companies is the emphasis on creating meaningful friendships between coworkers.

Even without looking at the data I mentioned above, it makes sense that if everyone on the team is close and gets along well, they’ll work better together. Organizing simple team building events like a happy hour or going out for lunch are great ways to let the team bond.

More than anything though, encourage chit chat at the office. I remember at an old job I used to get in trouble for “disturbing” my coworkers if I went over to ask how their weekend was. That’s the wrong way of thinking, because discussion leads to innovation.

What Do You Think Employees Really Want?
Recognition? Frequent feedback? Opportunities to grow personally and professionally? Do you think what I’m saying makes sense? Anything to add? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Director of Customer Happiness

Jacob is the Director of Customer Happiness at Officevibe and is on a mission to make the world of work better. He believes that everyone deserves to love their job and be happy, healthy, and productive at work. He's passionate about startups and company culture, and believes you should never stop learning.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Andrew Currie

    Jacob, this is a great summary for thinking about what engagement really means and what companies need to do to create places where employees really want to work there. Result! Indeed with such a compelling case the question I was left with is why aren’t there more organisations putting employees at the heart of their business strategy…Andrew

    • JacobShriar

      Thanks for your comment Andrew! That’s a great and complex question, I’m not sure any of us have the right answer. It’s hard for people to see the benefits because they’re not immediate, but they’re very powerful. It’s something I’ve never fully understood myself, it seems so obvious.

  • Norman Jentner

    Jacob, Great post. Great points. What you are saying does make sense. Part of the task is to incorporate your suggestions forthrightly and genuinely as part of one’s culture, no? I’ve tried to share a bit about this at http://businessculturesolutions.com/basics/prudent/. What think? Make sense to you?

  • Natalia Hernandez

    Thanks Jacob for sharing your conversation with Rob. Very interesting piece of knowledge and technology applied to org development and engagement! Thank you for the article!