When it comes to job satisfaction, financial rewards may be lower on the list than most people think. Being happy with your job seems to depend more on the intangibles: feeling part of a team and being valued and appreciated consistently outrank money when employees are polled about job satisfaction.
Take Bill, for example: a very competent project manager at a software development company. He was recruited a few months ago to his current company, and he is already thinking of looking elsewhere. “I get no feedback whatsoever from my manager,” he said. With no sense of how he fits into the company’s overall goals or how he’s performing, his motivation is down. “The hours are much better at this company,” he concedes, “But I’m not as engaged in the work – I just don’t care as much.”
Bill’s story is not unique, as many managers know. So here are some tips and strategies for retaining valuable employees.
Ten Steps to Success
Many of the following recommendations may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many managers neglect to follow them. They can allow you to achieve the Holy Grail of the work place: the ability to motivate your employees to move mountains! (And they’ll be happy with their jobs while they do it.)
Step 1: Clearly define your vision. Make sure that your vision is provided as a roadmap for your employees, and that they know each twist and turn.
Step 2: Give employees what they want and need. Don’t just assume that each and every one of your employees has all the tools, training, and support from supervisors they need –check in with them personally and find out.
Step 3: Communicate well and often. Training sessions, memos, newsletters, FAQs, and regular meetings can all be used to present your vision to your employees. Make sure to ask questions, and if they are confused, redesign the way the information reaches them.
Perhaps the most important part of a good manager’s job is communicating effectively. Creating a culture of communication in which managers and employees share common goals and work together to meet them can boost a company up and even save it from the gutter.
Goodman and Truss, in the Journal of Change Management (2004), stressed the importance of communication, especially in difficult times or during times of change. Timing is critical in letting employees know about upcoming changes, in order to reduce uncertainty. You also need to be very clear about your purpose when you meet with them. Goodman and Truss recommend the following objectives:
Obtain individual buy-in
Obtain commitment to the change
Reduce personal anxiety
Ensure clarity of objectives
Challenge the status quo
(Goodman, J., & Truss, C., (2004). The medium and the message: communicating effectively during a major change initiative. Journal of Change Management, 4, 217-228.)
Step 4: Get everyone engaged. Figure out a way to get all of your employees engaged in planning and decision-making. That way the project becomes their baby: something they’re willing to fight for.
To do this, whenever possible, ask for input and use their ideas. This way, they have a vested interest in seeing the project succeed. This can not only empower and motivate employees, it can also lead to new and more productive ways of working that normally would be overlooked during more stable times.
Step 5: Coach for success, and practice random acts of kindness. Feedback is another great motivator. Don’t wait for the periodic reviews; instead, offer feedback as often as possible. Positive feedback should be given right away, to encourage more of the same performance. Negative feedback should also be given a.s.a.p., so that workers have the opportunity to self-correct. If you can, schedule weekly meetings with individual employees, to provide an opportunity to discuss ongoing projects and issues. These meetings don’t have to take a lot of time, and they can build strong working relationships.
And don’t forget to say “Thank you!” for a job well done. It’s a powerful motivator, and should be done often–in person if possible. Publicly acknowledging your employees’ contributions is even better. In a survey by McKinsey Quarterly in 2009, praise from immediate supervisors and attention from company leaders were found to be just as important or more important than financial rewards.
Step 6: Act fairly, respect, and create trust (don’t be a jerk). Use your judgment, wisdom, and experience to create a supportive environment. When problems arise, examine the circumstances, understand the context, and only then pass judgment. Respect and trust your team and you will get the same in return. If you make a mistake, apologize and admit you were wrong. This will allow your employees to relate to you better, and they will appreciate your honesty.
Step 7: Trust and verify, but also try to make work fun. Good bosses pay attention to the big picture and the details, and care about both the product and the employees. A good way to show that is be involved in the creation process, and to pay attention to what is going on. And remember to do this with a smile on your face. Lighten up! Making work fun really pays off, since people often get a lot more done when they enjoy themselves.
Step 8: Give special attention to high-potential employees. “Even in a tough economy, high-potential employees have other opportunities,” according to Douglas Klein, president of Sirota Survey Intelligence. A study they conducted showed that during an economic crisis, employees who are anxious about their future can negatively affect a company. The reason is simple and obvious: they are less engaged in their jobs, and they may be making plans to leave.
To keep them engaged, consider putting more resources into career development and training. Or perhaps you can give them new projects that will help the company adapt to the changing market, grow, and develop.
Step 9: Be creative to avoid downsizing. “An employer that treats its employees as true partners makes every effort to avoid layoffs,” according to Klein. The key is for employees to trust that management is doing everything possible to retain them. Voluntary steps to reduce costs, which Klein calls “rings of defense” can be employed to avert disaster.
This step may look like a shot in the dark, but you’d be surprised how reasonable people can be about pay cuts and/or working overtime, as part of a crisis strategy, built with their own accord as a safety net during challenging times. The magic of this approach relies on those few words: built with their own accord.
(Sirota Survey Intelligence survey summarized in “The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want”, 2005)
Step 10: Implement incentive programs.
No matter of what kind of business you are in, you should look into incentive programs. They have been shown to be highly beneficial in motivating employees, and a major benefit is that the cost can be based on actual performance and paid out only after an employee has reached the desired goal. “Do good and you’ll get rewarded” makes a positive impact on the company as a whole, with employees working harder to meet the target.
The following results were found in a study by the International Society of Performance Improvement, on the benefits of incentive programs:
They can improve performance significantly. The study found that performance could be increased by 22 percent in individuals, and 44% in teams. They can improve employee engagement. Performances improved by 15% when rewards were offered, and if employees were rewarded again to continue performing well, the improvement reached 27%. They can attract high potential employees. And these high quality employees are also more likely to stay when incentive programs are in place.
(Incentives, Motivation and Workplace Performance: Research & Best Practices, the International Society of Performance Improvement 2002
Job Retention Strategies
Job retention is a big problem for many companies, big and small. The Incentive Research Foundation (formerly known as the SITE Foundation), conducted a study on worker turnover in 2004, and another in the following year.
This study found some important results:
When work is held in high value by the employees, turnover is not a big issue. Recognition, praise, and special incentives are tools that can raise the value of work to employees. Whenever a company supports its employees, turnover rates drop significantly.
If employees feel better about their jobs, they are less likely to leave. Even more importantly: they will try to be better at what they do. By raising motivation levels, worker turnover can be reduced up to 53 percent.
(Steven J. Condly, Ph.D. and Robin DiPietro, Ph.D. “Motivation in the Hospitality Industry” 2005)
The results speak for themselves. Companies need to be pro-active to develop and retain the right people! Investing in your staff translates into big benefits for your company, including financial gains that will only grow over time.
Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of online skills testing for pre-employment assessment and benchmarking. Eric has degrees in Psychology and Business, and a fascination with matching people with roles they're best at, and that they enjoy.