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What Matters Most To Your Employees?

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Lauren Lee Anderson

In a data-driven culture, we tend to focus on and trust what the numbers tell us. We run our businesses by them and far too often apply similar calculations and algorithms to employee management and leadership practices.

While employee output and satisfaction is quantifiable, it is important to remember that employees are in fact people who exhibit a vast array of contrasting human qualities. These people are all driven by very different desires and needs, and determining how to keep each one satisfied and engaged is challenging.

The 2012 Society for Human Resource Management  Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report provides a wealth of eye-opening knowledge on US workers. Two of the most critical factors that contributed to employee satisfaction were communication between employees and senior management, and the relationship between employees and their direct supervisors.

But fluid communication between talent and management may seem arduous, time-consuming, and scary, especially in large organizations. So what can you do to keep the communication channels open and your employees satisfied?

Money isn’t everything

Money may make the world go ‘round, but for your employees it is only part of the puzzle. You may be surprised to learn that only one of the top 5 most important aspects of employee job satisfaction reported by SHRM involves money:

1) Opportunities to use skills and abilities

2) Job security

3) Compensation/pay

4) Communication between employees and senior management

5) Relationship with immediate supervisors

These statistics evidence a shift in what is most important to today’s employees. Regardless of industry-type or company size, employees of all ages and backgrounds are looking for more than a steady paycheck and a dental plan. They want to have an impact and they want that impact to be acknowledged.

Fulfillment is paramount

We have seen a trend in recent years, where alignment with purpose has been valued more highly by workers. People want to feel like they are contributing to the growth of the organization, while at the same time using their skills, knowledge, and talents to achieve personal fulfillment.

The ability to achieve this is easier said than done, especially in larger organizations where high-level needs and initiatives are not conveyed to everyone. Without an ability to communicate with key stake-holders, existing employees have no concept of the trajectory of growing companies or how they can use their highly valued skills and abilities to contribute to that growth.

Alignment of organizational need with personal abilities has never been more important. Where these two overlap is the vital nexus where companies can benefit from their employees’ greatest gifts, while simultaneously providing them with the satisfaction that they crave.

Annual reviews are not enough

Communication is critical, not just as a pathway for achieving purpose and contributing in a way that fulfills larger business goals. The ability for employees to communicate with senior management was rated higher than it has been in the past 10 years. So how can companies communicate better?

According to SHRM, the solution is two-fold. Companies large and small need to 1) augment annual reviews with more consistent interactions, and 2) implement systems of open communication and feedback.

Annual reviews are ineffective because there is not enough data to have an impactful discussion about your team’s progress. And employees often dread a meeting in which they basically have to defend themselves against their employer’s partial ignorance of their actual performance.

SHRM reports that “employee engagement and job satisfaction should not be something that HR professionals and their organizations measure once a year. They need to be built into an organization’s day-to-day activities.” When employees submit regular updates, it allows management to respond with support to the highest needs of the talented people who work for them, while simultaneously creating an archive for highly effective annual reviews.

Shouting up the ladder

The old philosophical thought experiment asks, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” That is how many front-line employees feel in large organizations. Their accomplishments, concerns, and brilliant ideas fall on deaf ears, or no ears at all. They may as well not even exist.

The data is clear: your talent wants to be seen and heard by the highest level of management. I am not suggesting that executives have 1-on-1’s with each of their 2,000 employees, but there are ways for managers to be aware of what is happening at all levels of the organization.

SHRM suggests that “employers can build a bridge between employees and senior management by training line managers… to better understand the organization’s vision and share it with their direct reports. These managers can complete the information-sharing loop by sharing with senior management feedback from employees.”

When I think of the information sharing loop, I think of the game telephone that I used to play as a child. The message changes and gets diluted as people don’t communicate it or hear it clearly. When the final person whispers the message back to the person who started, it can differ greatly.

Do you think an employee will whisper something back to you that they know is wrong? Stop playing telephone with the future of your company and align the workforce with the company mission.

Hey Boss!

Relationships between employees and their immediate supervisors are highly valued. Over 70% of employees said that this relationship has a direct impact on their engagement at work.

A poor relationship between employees and managers means that employees are unlikely to share feedback, problems, and concerns face-to-face. But even when these relationships are solid, employees need to be encouraged to share, otherwise creativity and innovation may be stifled.

Think about it. When you felt safe to communicate with your immediate supervisor and you felt supported by them, you were probably more likely to put more effort in. Many of today’s business leaders ascended to that position at least partly due to the strength of the relationships between them and their direct reports.

The problem is that many employees are concerned with speaking up and are afraid to bring forth suggestions to their direct reports. Asking direct questions of your staff invites honesty and candor and creates an effective communication channel. Employees can articulate needs and problems without fear of reprisal, and employers can step in to provide support.

We are seeing a trend where the need for strong relationships between employees and middle and senior management is critical to employee job satisfaction. In larger organizations, these relationships are difficult to maintain without some automation in place. As this need continues to rise, fluid communication and feedback will become the most important factor for engagement, satisfaction, retention, and ultimately the success of your company.