What Do Employees Want?

bob's Blog Dr. Bob Nelson

In these tight, stressful, changing times what are the things that are most important to employees today?  I recently conducted a survey of about 1500 employees to answer that question.  Here are the top five themes I found employees said were most important to them today, along with some thoughts on how you might better provide each of these items to your own employees.

A learning activity (#1) and choice of assignment (#9)
Today’s employees most value learning opportunities in which they can gain skills that can enhance their worth and marketability in their current job—as well as future positions.  Find out what your employees want to learn, how they want to grow and develop, and where they want to be in five years.  Give them opportunities as those opportunities arise and the ability to choose work assignments whenever possible.  When given the choice, more often than not they will rise to meet or exceed your expectations.

Flexible working hours (#2) and time off from work (#7)
Today’s employees value their time—and their time off.  Be sensitive to their off schedule needs whether it involves family or friends, charity or church, education or hobbies, and provide flexibility whenever you can so they can meet those obligations.  Time off might range from an occasional afternoon off to attend a child’s play at school or the ability to start the workday an hour early so as to be able to leave an hour early at the end of the day.  By allowing work to fit best with an employee’s life schedule, you increase the chances that they will be motivated to work harder while they are at work, and to do their best to make their schedule work.

Personal praise—verbal (#3), public (#8) or written (#10)
Although you can thank someone in 10 to 15 seconds, most employees report that they are never thanked for the job they do where they work—and especially not by their manager.  Systematically start to thank your employees when they do good work whether it’s one-on-one in person, in the hallway, in a group meeting, on voicemail, in a written thank-you note, on email or at the end of each day at work.  Better yet, go out of your way to act on and share and amplify good news when it occurs—even if it means interrupting someone to thank them for a great job they have done.  By taking the time to say you noticed and appreciate their efforts, those efforts—and results—will continue.

Increased autonomy (#5) and authority (#4) in their job
The ultimate form of recognition for many employees is to be given increased autonomy and authority to get their job done, whether it’s the ability to spend or allocate resources, make decisions or manage others.  Greater autonomy and authority says, “I trust you to act in the best interests of the company, to do so independently and without approval of myself or others.”  Increased autonomy and authority should be awarded to employees as a form of recognition itself for the past results they have achieved as privileges, not rights.

Time with their manager (#6)
Personal time with one’s manager is in itself also a form of recognition.  As managers themselves are busier, taking time with employees is all the more important to do.  The action says: “Of all the things I have to do, one of the most important is to take time to be with you, the person or persons I most depend upon for us to be successful.”  Especially for younger employees, time spent with one’s manager is a valued form of validation and inspiration, as well as serving a practical purpose of learning and communication, answering questions, discussing possibilities or just listening to an employee’s ideas, concerns and opinions.

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