I recently attended a webinar offered by Kenexa on employee engagement and compensation and a particular slide in the PowerPoint deck caught my attention: What employees want. Wow…is there really a simple answer? A magic bullet? Turns out, there actually IS a pretty simple answer to what employees want, but balancing the component parts of that answer is the art.
In a nutshell, and this should not surprise anyone, employees want RESPECT. Yep, Aretha got it right. All we want is a little respect. The question is, what does that mean? Well, it varies from employee to employee, but if you address the following 7 areas, you’ll be certain to hit on your employees’ sweet spots.
R: Recognition. You might be surprised to learn that this is a close second to pay. All the pay in the world does not make up for the lack of a simple “Thank you,” or “Nice job.” While fair pay is important, people often view their paychecks as one part of a transaction: I will do my job; you will pay me. It’s generally an impersonal (but important) transaction of “this for that.” However, when someone takes a moment from a busy day to stop, look you in the eye, and give you a warm, genuine acknowledgement, it is PERSONAL. In this day and age, personal goes a long way.
E: Exciting work. We can’t all be James Bond. Some of us will just have to deal with the fact that we have an office job and no expense account. Exciting work, though, is relative. Every small company gets projects that are short-term, but offer a bit of a challenge, or require out-of-the-box thinking. When you understand what makes your employees tick outside of the day-to-day demands of their jobs, you might find an untapped talent or interest. These little projects, as well as the opportunity to own the job for which they were hired, may be just enough excitement for your team.
S: Security. This is a tough one. As an employer, you simply can’t guarantee that jobs will be there tomorrow. The economy is too schizophrenic, and the butterfly effect is too real. So, how do you guarantee security? You can’t. But what you can do is ensure that you approach security from a physical, emotional and psychological perspective. First, provide your employees with an environment that is safe and secure. They spend upwards of one-third of their life in your facilities. Make sure they feel safe coming, going and being there. Make sure you are investing in technology that allows them to do their job without being hacked, phished, or harassed. You might be surprised to learn that this “want” was third out of seven.
P: Pay. This was the “want” at the top of the list, but it may not be exactly what you’re thinking. Unless it’s your mother, very few people are willing to work for free. People want to be fairly and equitably compensated for the work they do. As a small employer, you may not be able to compete with the big companies, but a great place to start understanding what “fair” pay is is online. Google job titles and salaries. Visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook to explore position descriptions and pay ranges. Remember that a lower salary may be acceptable if you can offer other benefits, such as free parking, flexible work schedules, and even more vacation.
E: Education and career growth. Who wants to do the same job day in and day out, forever? Nobody! Look at opportunities that will allow your employees to grow. A few ways to accomplish this include adding a small, per-employee budget to send an employee to a class or certification program each year, opportunities for your employees to develop and deliver classes (related to business need, of course) to your other staff or clients, or even expanded roles (with appropriate compensation increases) that will help your employees stretch their skills naturally. Also, don’t be shy about talking to your vendors or professional trade association to see if there are low- and no-cost webinars and courses that your employees can attend. Banks will frequently sponsor programs (lunches, breakfasts, etc.) that are highly educational in exchange for an opportunity for them to get their materials into your employees’ hands.
C: Conditions. Closely related to security, your employees want a nice place to work. You don’t have to make costly renovations to your office to provide nice conditions. Think creatively. Will putting a table and chairs outside, but within reach of wi-fi, expand your “office,” while providing a change of scenery? Do you have a space in your offices that can be converted to a creative room, stocked with healthy snacks, games, white boards, and comfy seating to allow your team to think creatively? Are your office colors vibrant and interesting? A lot of this is visual, but also think about your “rules” and processes. Is it easy to get work done? Is it enjoyable to come to work? Are people and tools accessible when your team needs them? Finally, what is the tone of your office? Are people happy and helpful…or hateful? It is important to keep an eye on this, particularly, because hateful could be a short step away from harassment or discrimination–a potentially costly condition, indeed. All of these contribute to the conditions in the workplace.
T: Truth. Truth touches on all the areas above, as well as ensuring your workplace has an honest, productive and CONSTRUCTIVE culture. I had a client who was in serious financial trouble and found himself in the position of needing to sell his business. Rather than communicating with his team and letting them know that times were tough, he said nothing. One morning they all came to work and found a “For Sale” sign on the building. They panicked and their trust was violated. Over a year later and he is still trying to regain their trust and move the business forward. They are still struggling with being blindsided. Truth also means being honest with your employees when they are not doing the job you need them to do. Small business owners sometimes have a more personal relationship with their employees, which increases the difficulty they have in being honest and direct. Establish now your communication approach and apply it consistently…no matter what. You and your team will be better for it.
The percentage breakdown, in terms of importance, for each of these areas:
R – 20%
E – 7%
S – 18%
P – 25%
C – 9%
T – 11%
Remember, the goal is to find the right mix for you and your unique company and needs. And avoid assuming that just because you might not want something, it does not mean your team does not want it.