What do employees really want?










It’s not that complicated, really. I am currently working on a wonderful project with one of my clients that has elicited some practical, practicable feedback I think resonates for every company and leader. So I thought I would share some of the key themes we uncovered with you, as I think you can benefit from them, too. The value of this won’t show up on a balance sheet. But it is very effective preventive medicine that can address situations before they get to a crisis stage and become more costly to fix.

On this particular project, we’re focusing on defining the employee experience at their company and how it can be improved. We conducted focus groups asking what the “experience” was for people who had been there anywhere from 30 years to 3 months. At the same time, the company launched an engagement survey. The themes were consistent across both, and they will likely come as no surprise to you.

Keep Me Productive. People want ways to maximize what they can do. They gave us four good ways to enhance their productivity.

First is development.  People want their leaders to not run away from giving effective feedback but to provide it – regularly – to help chart the course. It’s worth the investment for leaders to become astute at giving recognition and feedback in ways that motivate and inspire optimal performance. This can fuel employee growth, which, in turn, leads to positive results for the company, too. Development is also a key need for people. It’s an important part of the company’s investments in people. And they want it to be accessible given everyone’s busy life – onsite and regularly occurring.

After development, people want the right tools to keep them productive. The dilemma they see is that robust employees who keep legacy and outdated systems going also keep problems from becoming greater problems. This stalls the natural evolution of upgrades and new ways of doing things. “Why fix a problem if it ain’t broke” only gets them so far. Then they end up getting stuck.

Third is the issue of time, which people never seem to have enough of. They are looking for ways to juggle time to use in other ways – flex time to balance work and family, free time to be creative, less meeting time to do the day-to-day work that keeps things humming. People are stressed. They recognize that, though revenues are growing post recession, resourcing is not. And they are now feeling it in every part of their work and life. One group even talked about the “10 o’clock club” – that group of people who are online every night at 10. It’s funny, but in a sardonic way, that they have formed a group identity around managing the stresses of work life.

Keep a safe harbor. People need more from HR. The development of business partners as a model for HR execution fixed a too employee-centered flaw in HR that evolved over the years. Now business partners see themselves as organizational experts working at achieving business goals right next to their operational partners.

At the same time, that personal touch has been lost to a call center approach to solve “tactical” problems that occur all the time. A leader calls about a certain policy and is asked to look in a certain place on the web for the policy. These are good things, but, along the way, one of HR‘s key roles has gotten lost. The one where, when a supervisor asks about a policy, the employee relations expert asks why they need it, and this begins a dialogue that really matters to both the individual and the company.

Employee relations is one of the only proactive approaches HR can take to resolve not only the requests that come their way, but also the root cause problems, too.

The “touch” is what people want, as well.  What do we mean by touch? We mean that, sometimes, people just need a place to land. They need a private, confidential, judgment-free zone to address things that bother them without it going anywhere else.

Again, the value of this doesn’t show up on any balance sheet. But it is effective preventive medicine that can take care of situations before they get to a crisis stage and become much more expensive and time consuming to fix.

Keep the culture sound. In the fast-changing world we live in, people want to understand the opportunities and boundaries that culture creates. The sense of belonging that embracing a culture gives is not just a touch feely connectedness. It gives people a decision-making framework that guides their behavior. And if we want people to be autonomous in their thinking, we want to encourage independent thinking within a set of guard rails that we have vetted, that we have reflected on, and that we hold dear.

People work for rewards. Sure. But the work and commitment that gets captured on the margins – marginal effort – is all about being proud of who we are and what we do. When everyone feels it is important to maintain the connective tissue of the organization, the organization belongs to everyone and they belong to it. It’s a synergy that is worth paying attention to. And one that has made a huge difference the success or mediocrity of many companies.

Keep me informed. No matter where I go or to which company, everyone always thinks that communication is lacking. And, in most companies, the lack of a communications strategy can be an issue. Most companies do under communicate. With all that’s out there on the web, including the company website, why do people still feel this way?

Again, the personal touch is missing. People want to hear what is important to hear from people they know and trust. I have heard from so many that, because staff is so lean, all there is time for is getting the job done – no time for the frills of personal connection.  I have seen companies make the mistake of thinking that, without tight management and the right support, second-line leaders understand the meaning and importance of company messages. Sometimes they don’t get it, sometimes they don’t do it, and sometimes they don’t think it’s important in the crush of day to day work.

Communications is lacking but information is not. It is time to turn the informational assets into to communications assets in service to the company and its people.

So, to recap: keep me productive, keep a safe harbor, keep the culture sound, and keep me informed.  That’s all people really want. It’s so simple, yet it’s everything.


2 thoughts on “What do employees really want?

  1. The points here are relevant, as I have worked for some great organizations and some not-so-great organizations. And these were all factors that played into my having either a positive or negative experience at work. As I reflect back, it summed up to the kinds of people experiences I had, along with the levels of challenges presented. Working with good people and having healthy goals to achieve resulted in unique professional experiences and, often times, an amazing love for my work. Great summary of basic human needs that really aren’t that complicated to understand, especially when one looks at their own needs and applies them in a leadership role.

  2. Sometimes I wonder why we (the big we) just don’t want to pay attention to what really matters. Engagement is all about creating a place where people can enjoy what they do and can do it knowing it has meaning, impact, value. I just keep wondering, “why don’t leaders get it?” Any thoughts?

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