Organizations deliver superior results when their employees feel satisfied with their jobs. In RESPECT, Jack Wiley and Brenda Kowske use data from surveys of over 200,000 workers to distill employee satisfaction into seven fundamental needs: recognition, exciting work, security of employment, pay, education and career growth, conditions at work, and truth (RESPECT). They argue that employers who meet these needs not only reduce turnover, but outperform their competitors financially. Most importantly, Wiley and Kowske show why giving employees what they want is a marketplace imperative–as well as the right thing to do.
WHAT EMPLOYEES REALLY WANT
By making sure employees feel fulfilled in their jobs, companies can optimize the value of their workforces. Not only are satisfied employees more likely to stay with firms, but the authors’ surveys show that they outperform those who are dissatisfied. Among the most eye-opening findings of the research is that 75 percent of what employees want at work is not about money; their other desires are nearly as important. These fundamental desires are summarized by the acronym RESPECT:
*Recognition: A “pat on the back” from managers and from the firm. Too often, managers fail to take the time to recognize a job well done.
*Exciting work: Jobs that are interesting, challenging, and enjoyable. Employees also want to feel that they are good at what they do and are able to use the skills they possess.
*Security of employment: Job security. Employees do not want to worry about being downsized.
*Pay: Fair compensation. Being paid enough is critical to employees, but pay beyond the fairness threshold is not highly motivational.
*Education and career growth: Opportunities to develop skills. People want to feel they can advance and progress in their careers.
*Conditions at work: Surroundings that are safe and comfortable, both physically and socially. Basic physical features of the workplace are important, like ventilation and air quality, but employees also need positive social conditions, like a friendly environment and work/life balance.
*Truth: Leaders who are honest and open. Balanced feedback and clear performance goals are also key contributors to satisfaction.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Giving employees what they want yields benefits on both sides. It does not come at the employer’s expense; instead, it enhances organizational success. Providing the elements of RESPECT raises the level of engagement among employees. This means they are enthusiastic, committed, take pride in their work, and are willing to apply discretionary efforts to help achieve organizational goals. Additionally, they see their organizations as winners in the marketplace and feel good about being a part of them.
Organizations with satisfied workers tend to be better than competitors at fulfilling customer needs and building customer loyalty. This increases revenue and market share. Importantly, the stock performance of such companies also beats that of firms less focused on their employees’ desires, making RESPECT-oriented organizations more appealing to investors.
Finally, giving RESPECT is simply the right thing to do. In today’s world, the workplace is central to most people’s lives, and it is reasonable for them to expect fair, ethical, and considerate treatment while on the job.
Feeling that their good work is recognized is essential to employee satisfaction. People long to be acknowledged as valuable members of a team and appreciated for more than the dollars they generate. Part of the recognition they seek is balanced feedback, not just as a reward to productive workers, but also as a stimulus to those who need it.
Because employees try hard to please their bosses, receiving recognition from managers is especially motivational. In fact, managers who are perceived as giving appropriate recognition are also assessed much more favorably than others; this applies to managers at all levels of organizations, not just those at the top or bottom. The following factors contribute to how employees feel about the recognition they receive:
*Timeliness: The sooner recognition is offered for an action, the more powerful it will be.
*Specificity: The most useful recognition focuses on a specific behavior or performance.
*Frequency: To be effective, recognition needs to be provided more often than solely at an annual performance review.
*Fairness and accurateness: Recognition should clearly go beyond lip service.
*Helpfulness: The most useful recognition helps employees understand why their actions made a positive difference.
Proven methods to improve the recognition of employees include:
*Identifying employee preferences: People may differ significantly in what types of recognition are meaningful to them.
*Making informal recognition a habit: Simple, inexpensive techniques are among the most impactful.
*Communicating success: While face-to-face communication is best, email, text messaging, and even voicemails can all be effective in providing timely recognition.
*Establishing clear criteria and policies for formal programs: People need to know they are competing for recognition on a level playing field.
*Creating opportunities for contact with higher managers: Employees feel particularly appreciated when senior managers offer recognition to those on the front line.
*Training managers in recognition: Best practices and techniques for recognizing employees can be learned like other business skills.
*Using training opportunities as a form of recognition: When appropriate, career growth and development opportunities can be potent ways to show appreciation.
People want their work to excite them; in other words, they want it to be satisfying and interesting. Unfortunately, the authors found that 40 percent of employees around the globe are not excited by what they do every day. Five conditions of work make it exciting:
- Having been cross-trained. This type of learning exposes people to new situations and brings a sense of hope and opportunity.
- Working in research and development. Being part of pioneering R&D efforts creates an exciting feeling of blazing new trails and anticipating the unknown.
- Working in an expatriate assignment. This type of work excites people because they are forging new opportunities on a new frontier.
- Working remotely. Remote workers feel independent and self-confident, factors which contribute to a sense of excitement.
- Working for a nonprofit organization. Mission-driven jobs help people feel fulfilled and part of efforts that benefit society.
Exciting, satisfying work significantly improves employee retention. Among the major contributors to such work are:
*Clear expectations. People need to know that their responsibilities are reasonable and compatible with other demands.
*Identification with work. When employees understand their organizations’ goals or value their missions, they are more likely to identify with them and contribute more of themselves to what they do.
*Sense of accomplishment. People get satisfaction from seeing the results of their efforts.
*Responsibility. Employees want the ability to make decisions and otherwise take responsibility for their work.
*Feedback and recognition. Feedback makes employees feel good by reinforcing what they do well and helping them improve.
Organizations can take four basic steps to help employees feel excited by their work:
- Conduct realistic job previews. Prospective hires should receive both positive and negative information about the job. This helps them trust the hiring manager and feel confident about what to expect.
- Participate with employees to understand their feelings. High-level managers should listen to the employees who report to their direct reports. They will get new ideas about products and services as well as insight about what excites the workers.
- Recognize employees for jobs well done. A simple “thank you” is both powerful and low cost.
- Remember to have fun. Social activities for teams help build personal relationships and enhance workplace energy.
SECURITY OF EMPLOYMENT
When employees feel insecure about their jobs, they exhibit poor attitudes and decreased commitment. They are also more likely to consider quitting than those who have a sense of job security. Employees will not feel secure unless they trust the leadership of their organizations. They want managers to be skilled, competent, benevolent, and ethical because these qualities help ensure that their organizations will be able to provide jobs in the long term. While job security is, in part, a function of broad economic trends, there are concrete actions employers can take to boost employees’ feelings of security. These include:
*Clarifying the employment proposition. People want to know that their organizations will be committed to their employees if the market weakens. Employee engagement deteriorates when companies downsize in response to business declines; conversely, stable organizations that avoid layoffs are the strongest financial performers.
*Sharing information openly. Employees think and act more like owners when given the information they need to understand company finances and challenges.
*Preparing employees for new opportunities. People know that market circumstances can change quickly, so they appreciate when their employer helps them build skills to prepare for the future.
*Being flexible and creating flexibility. Employees are more secure, engaged, and committed when they do not feel chained to a task or physical space.
Everyone works for pay. While people do not always work solely for pay, they expect to be compensated fairly, and they see raises as indicators that they are valued by their organizations. Those who feel they are not receiving the pay they deserve show reduced commitment to their jobs and increased motivation to quit. Benefits like healthcare insurance have become increasingly important, but money retains a primary role in employee satisfaction. This is especially evident among those earning relatively low salaries.
Fair pay has a strong positive impact on business. It not only helps attract and retain top talent, but also lowers absenteeism and increases employee engagement, productivity, and motivation. To enhance the delivery of fair compensation, organizations can take these actions:
*Review compensation packages with employees. People should be aware of how their compensation compares to the market.
*Create an annual compensation review. Each year, employees should receive a one-page summary of all the pay and benefits they receive, including items they might overlook like retirement plan contributions.
*Give time off. This can be a low-cost but meaningful reward for a job well done.
*Explain the benefits package to new hires. Managers should not assume that newcomers read and understand all the details.
*Remind employees about benefits. Some companies provide low-profile forms of compensation like tuition assistance or transportation subsidies. Managers should ensure that employees are aware of such benefits.
EDUCATION AND CAREER GROWTH
Humans are innately motivated to learn and grow. In addition, people see career education as a way to achieve their goals and increase their compensation. According to the authors’ research, the risk of losing talent drops by more than half at firms that provide opportunities for development. Providing education is most important when turnover is high, job demands change frequently, the business is unique or complex, and workers with needed skills are hard to find.
Companies with significant training and education investments enjoy higher net sales and gross profits than other firms. They are better prepared than competitors to deal with the looming managerial shortage predicted to occur as Baby Boomers retire. Also, they are well positioned to avoid the so-called “glass ceiling,” where female employees fail to advance into senior executive ranks in part because they lack training opportunities at the mid-manager level.
Different employers will have their own specific training and educational needs. However, there are some basic approaches that can help many organizations improve the employee experience of education and growth:
*Develop a thorough employee orientation process. This is an excellent time to provide information about programs and expectations.
*Create employee education and growth plans. Individually, employees should be informed of specific areas where they could benefit from skill development.
*Evaluate the organization’s education and training programs. While it is difficult to measure the financial impact of such programs, organizations can readily survey employees about their perceived value.
*Promote job posting systems. This boosts employees’ confidence that they will know when a good job comes along.
*Hold workshops or informal sessions. “Brown bag” lunches or other gatherings can be used to share career trends and bring in guest speakers to address their own development experiences.
*Use education and training to prepare employees for career moves. For example, a strong performer would appreciate being given special managerial training in anticipation of future openings.
CONDITIONS AT WORK
Positive working conditions are critical to employees. They want physical conditions that are comfortable and safe, as well as social conditions that foster cooperative, supportive, friendly environments with minimal stress.
Physical conditions are generally related to health and safety and may include such features as noise, lighting, temperature, and cleanliness. Before an organization can effectively address physical issues, it should seek to understand specific factors of concern to workers. These could involve processes, policies, or practices. To improve physical conditions, organizations should consider:
*Spreading the word about resources. Not everyone always knows about resources like special equipment for the disabled or late-night taxi reimbursement.
*Prevent problems. For example, an employee in a noisy area could be given earplugs.
*Provide safety education. Workers should receive training, and companies should monitor compliance with safety procedures.
Positive social conditions generally stem from teamwork and cooperation. Employees who feel part of interdependent team efforts experience improved work/life balance and reduced work stress. These features are especially important when workers are learning new skills, are new hires, or need multiple areas of expertise in their jobs. Among effective actions organizations can take to bolster teamwork and cooperation are:
*Creating understanding and sharing information. As teams become larger, it becomes increasingly important to plan discussions of employee skills, abilities, talents, and work or project histories.
*Identifying best practices. Often, the best ideas for improving performance in a job come from employees who are doing similar jobs. Managers should solicit this input.
*Build team spirit and commitment. Events like annual retreats and off-site meetings emphasize the significance of team efforts and offer opportunities to recognize and reward team accomplishments.
Honest communication is the foundation for trust. Employees want truthfulness in the forms of information from management, performance feedback, and general communication in the workplace. Employees who lack accurate, timely information cannot make good decisions and become angry, resentful, and distrustful. Moreover, research shows that leaders cannot be effective when employees do not believe them. Despite this, one-third of executives simply do not know where their organizations are headed, and thus lack credible information to share.
Feedback is commonly seen as information provided during an annual appraisal, in addition to recognition for specific accomplishments. In reality, feedback is communicated through cues that employees receive every day, such as the facial expressions of bosses. HR departments and management should ensure that evaluations include not only hard metrics but also ongoing, softer measures reflecting how a person interacts with others to get his or her job done. Otherwise, formal evaluations can be unsettling and even counterproductive. In the case of high potential employees, insufficient feedback may cause them to underestimate their abilities and set goals too low, or become too confident and overreach.
Organizations need to foster a culture of truthfulness. To do so, they can take these actions:
*Keep employees updated. Management should share key operational and financial results in an ongoing, comprehensible way.
*Provide upward communication. There should be formal mechanisms for employees to share ideas. When creating tools like employee engagement surveys, organizations should remember that what they choose to measure reflects their values.
*Share performance feedback regularly. Providing corrective feedback throughout the year enables employees to make small, continual improvements.
*Spread information throughout the organization. Senior executives need to be visible to low-level work groups and managers.
*Conduct town hall meetings. Held at three- to six-month intervals, these are effective forums for leaders to present new information, answer questions, and build confidence in their truthfulness.
*Encourage upward communication among managers. There should be opportunities for low- and mid-level managers to discuss concerns with senior leadership.