You want your employees to work harder. They seem to expect a medal for what they’re already doing. You want your employees to feel happy about returning to the office. They don’t. They’d prefer to work remote. You handed out raises and expected your employees to thank you. Your employees reminded you their wages, even with the raises, haven’t kept pace with inflation. This disconnect may be so extreme that you can’t find enough employees willing to work for what you’re paying them. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, many employers have left jobs unfilled because they can’t afford to pay employees the wages employees demand, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-war-to-define-what-work-looks-like-11666411221?mod=management_lead_pos13/.
Here’s what happened
If you’re a manager or business owner struggling with the gulf between employee expectations and employer needs, here’s what you need to realize. The freedom and flexibility of working from home during the pandemic changed the work orientation for many employees. Employees feel empowered by the leverage they gained in a tight labor market and don’t see you or any current employer as their only option. From the employee perspective, “We’re giving you forty hours of our lives; what are you giving us and is it worth it?”
As another example for how differently employers and employees view reality, a recent survey of twenty thousand individuals reported that while only 12% of leaders consider their employees productive, 87% of employees described themselves as productive at work, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-war-to-define-what-work-looks-like-11666411221?mod=management_lead_pos13. Meanwhile, U.S. productivity experienced its steepest decline in 74 years in the first quarter of 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-war-to-define-what-work-looks-like-11666411221?mod=management_lead_pos13.
What’s the solution? You need to reset your employer/employee relationship before the gulf between your needs as an employer and your employees’ expectations further widens.
Start with employees you have. Learn what matters most to each one, and what—if they receive it—will make them commit. Does your employee most want schedule flexibility, challenging work, or to know they’re on an upward trajectory? Which matters more—increased compensation, decision-making autonomy, or skills development? You don’t want to guess at what motivates your employee and reward your employee with a raise when what s/he craves is work/life balance, the freedom to work from home at least one day a week, or the chance to learn something new.
Unless you arm yourself with this knowledge, you’ll lose employees, especially younger ones. A recent survey reports a staggering 74% of three thousand surveyed Millennial and Gen Z employees currently consider quitting in 2023 due to a lack of professional development opportunities, http://workplaceintelligence.com/upskilling-study/. As a result, employers that place all their bets on increasing employee wages and forget to provide training opportunities may lose out. This survey also reported that these employees’ desire for work-life balance (voiced by 74% of them) almost equaled their desire for improved compensation and benefits packages (76%), https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2023/02/14/why-younger-employees-will-switch-jobs-for-an-employer-who-invests-in-them/?sh=1f735f50295c.
How do you find out what matters to your employees? Ask. Not knowing can cost you, particularly with employees already cruising job search platforms looking for new opportunities. Meet with each employee and say, “I want to talk with you about the key reasons you stay with us, and what matters to you as an employee. My goal is to learn what I can do to make us an employer of choice for you in areas we can control.” For a full discussion on how to conduct this type of interview, visit https://bit.ly/2YYJ98N.
You also need to learn what your employees consider your deficits as an employer and find de-motivating in their jobs so you can address any fixable issues. Key questions that may give you the answer to retaining your employees and increasing their engagement and commitment include:
“If you were managing the team, what would you do differently?”
“What might entice you away from our organization?”
“What is it you’re glad you’ve found in your work here, that you sense will keep you engaged and satisfied?”
“Is there anything you want to change about your job or department?”
“How does your job here measure up to what you want?”
“What is one thing that would make your job more satisfying and rewarding?”
You can find a listing of more than seventy similarly useful questions in Managing for Accountability, https://bit.ly/3CTFTKV.
You may fear many of your employees will say, “I want it all. I want higher wages, greater flexibility, more training” and then add a dozen other requests. That’s not my experience. In my forty-plus years as a business owner and management consultant, I’ve learned each employee has one or two “sweet spots” for what most matters to them. If you’ve not heard this term before, the sweet spot on a bat or racket is the area that makes most effective contact with a ball, resulting in the maximum response for a given amount of effort. Find this sweet spot, the one or two areas that most matter to each of your key employees and give it to them. You’ll have bridged the gulf between employer needs and employee expectations, and these employees will help you build a strong organization.
(c) 2023 Lynne Curry
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