What Employees Really Want

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Last week I talked about the benefits employers tend to give that look free—like gym

This is not what your A-listers are looking for.

This is not what your A-listers are looking for.

memberships—but can actually wind up raising employees’ taxable income. But employers have to find some way to sweeten the pot so the most talented, skilled people will want to work for them. I have two strong suggestions: Growth Opportunities and Flex-Time.

I Coulda Been a Contender

More and more research demonstrates that what really makes employees love the company isn’t a drawer full of candy—they can make one of those for themselves. They want a boss and a company that sincerely invests in their personal career goals.  This doesn’t mean lip service, any employee worth her salt can see past that. This means the company takes an interest from day one in what Jane Manager really wants to be when she grows up. They’ve already looked into training and education programs and they’re open to paying all or part of Jane’s tuition if she finds a really unique program that is suited to her goals. It means managers are expected to stay alert to opportunities for Jane to spread her wings, test new skills and prove herself, thus rising to the next level.

This, of course, costs money. But it’s a worthwhile investment, which the gym membership and the free snacks might not be. There’s a joke meme by Peter Baeklund floating around LinkedIn in which the CFO asks the CEO “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave us?” To which the CEO replies “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

Top people, really good people have an innate need to grow. If you stunt their growth, your “A” players will leave. The C players, on the other hand, will be happy with candy.

Treat Me Like a Grownup

You know what it tells employees when you don’t give them flex time? When you don’t let them come in and leave in time to beat the traffic or pick up their kids? When you don’t ever let them work from home? It tells them you don’t trust them. And it’s a big, cold, wet, disincentive.  Research shows, overwhelmingly, that most people would take flexibility and work-life balance over a raise.

I remember working for a company back when laptops where new and the VP suggested they get everybody a laptop.

Other executives were aghast. “But they must be here! Sitting at their computers where we can keep an eye on them!” the other executives said.

But the VP said: “No, we must unshackle them.” And he did. And guess what? Employees started being more productive, even working from home. Because they felt free. They felt like adults. They took personal responsibility for the deadlines being met and the job getting done.

I’ve dealt with hundreds of companies and thousands of employees and it’s truly the exception rather than the rule when you run across an employee who really doesn’t care about doing a good job on the project. Most adults have developed an internal reward system that takes pride and feels good about nailing it. But they also want to be good parents and partners and friends. They may want to be good volleyball players or saxophonists or Sudoku champs. They’re adults. They need to be given autonomy and trusted to get the job done. And anyone who implodes when this is offered probably isn’t worth the time you’re paying managers to watch him.

Seriously, most of us don’t choose our careers or go through the trauma and hassle of applying for jobs so we can get lunch free or play foosball on our breaks. We have dreams and goals of our own that the job can either be a conduit for or a barrier to. Which is your company?

We can help.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.    

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.