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One More Time: What Do People Want At Work?

Getting the very best (or most) from employees has become the holy grail of business. Millions of  dollars are spent to determine how to achieve a state where workers function at high levels of productivity and, supposedly, satisfaction.
Every employee survey I’ve seen over the past 30 years shows the same results as this, conducted in 2007 by Towers Perrin. The survey population was 90,000 employees, worldwide.
What do Employees Want?
The #1 element on a global level was an employee’s belief that senior management was interested in his or her well-being. Approved 300x300 Imagine. Employee’s relate their success on the job to feeling cared for and about. Not money, not flex time, but feeling that people above them care about their well-being. For years, employers have focused on perks and incentives: pay raises, performance bonuses, extra vacation time; less-inspired employers have their own method of inspiration in the form of threats of ‘downsizing’. Or, if they are really euphemistically astute, ‘Right’-sizing. This means that the ‘right’ size is minus you. These aren’t necessarily bad ideas–with the exception of threats–but they’re all short-term and  inevitably lead to an eventual drop off in performance again. How ‘motivating’ is a bonus check or vacation that’s ten months away? Three decades of research tells us that hanging the carrot out there doesn’t create sustained productivity, commitment, and satisfaction. Despite all the effort to bring quantifiable science into the realm of employee effectiveness, we discover what we’ve known for thousands of years: people respond to be treated like humans–not like numbers.
We’ve Done The Work For You It’s only a bit more involved and systematic than I’ve described. After reviewing volumes of research in performance, productivity, effectiveness, and change, we’ve boiled down the findings into five categories of what employees say they want in order to ‘be their best':
1. Employees want to have a ‘good fit’ in the organization, one that matches their skills and interests at a given time.
2. Employees want to be clear about their job: what is really expected and how it will be measured.
3. Employees want managers and organizations who support what they’re doing and get roadblocks out of the way.
4. Employees want to feel valued for who they are and what they bring that is unique.
5. Employees want to be part of something that inspires them. There are lots of ways to earn money. But over the long-term, they (we) want to be part of something that lifts us up because there is something personally meaningful about it.
So, how do you develop sustained performance and satisfaction? Scratch the survey. Sit down and talk with your people about these five things and how each one is going. Then listen. Then, figure out together how to move things along the great curve of life.
Management by Truman When asked his formula for leadership success, former U.S. President Harry Truman responded: ‘I find out what people want and then help them get it.’ Duh.


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