What Do Employees Really Want?

“I don’t like my job, I don’t like my company, and I’m staying right where I am.” This is how Tom Davenport of Towers Perrin describes a key finding of a survey his company conducted recently. Although 17% of the people surveyed are disengaged from their work and 63% are only moderately engaged, just 28% of that group are looking for new jobs.

The questions asked are different, slightly, and the numbers are different, slightly, but the message is the same as reported in the Walker Information survey highlighted in the last issue of Smart Decisions. There is disenchantment in the work force, management does not understand the cause, and is trying to tackle the problem in the wrong way.

Top management in too many companies still believes that money buys commitment and that a corporate vision will win the hearts as well as the minds of the uncommitted. Not so according to contemporary studies, including the two referred to above.

What do employees really want? Four things: a) Understanding, competent managers, b) advancement and development opportunities, c) recognition for accomplishments, and d) a sense of control over their work and the work environment.

Rewards and compensation play a role, but Herzberg gave us the heads up on that years ago. Money is a dissatisfier not a motivator. If financial rewards are perceived to be too low, commitment and performance will suffer. But if it’s perceived to be adequate, that does not drive higher performance.

Size doesn’t seem to matter – the failure to respond to what is important to employees is a problem with companies of all sizes. But bigger companies more so than smaller ones seem to realize the costs of having almost 60% of their workers mentally parked in another spot. For them, though, the problem is so mammoth that their only strategy is to institutionalize a solution that cannot succeed due to the very diversity of causes of the problem.

For example, one Canadian bank with almost 70,000 employees was quoted in a Toronto Globe & Mail article as striving to apply “customer relationship management” techniques to develop higher employee commitment. The cynical part of me believes that this will be history in several years and a new HR branded program will slide into its place.

Company-wide programs do not rejuvenate employee job satisfaction and commitment. On top of that misdirected effort, this particular program is tied into a plan to shift the culture of the bank from a service position to a clear sales orientation. Thousands of employees whose attitudes and personalities are more aligned with those of a service organization (which they voluntarily joined for that reason) will now be expected to actively and enthusiastically participate in a more proactive sales environment. For certain, they will have change, but I doubt that it will be the change they are anticipating.

What has a better chance of working? A combination of three things will go a long way toward re-energizing employee motivation. The first is better quality, more competent managers. This results from the more accurate selection of people who really do fit their roles and from renewed emphasis on their training and development. Too many organizations today think they are doing this well when, in fact, they are not.

The second is a reworking of jobs, wherever possible, to give people more discretion over how to do what is required. Every week I see a new example of a silly constraint or unnecessary interference that demotivates people. Too often these roadblocks are systemic and go unchallenged.

And the last is a more precise matching of the talents of people to job expectations at every level. This is what management is supposed to be about, and no amount of programs can make up for it if it’s missing.

(Sources: The Toronto Globe & Mail, hrmguide.net, towers.com, and The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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