3 Things That Make a Huge Difference to Employee Satisfaction

The average time an employee stays at any one employer right now is 4.4 years. For Millennials, the number is expected to be half that.[1] In spite of tight job markets, employees who feel undervalued, who lack confidence in management or have poor relationships with colleagues and managers, leave. Current research suggests, if average tenure is to lengthen, the quality of the work experience will be the deciding factor.

Employee Appreciation Cupcakes, Wikimedia Commons

According to the 2012 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report, compensation comes third on employees list of concerns. The CEB Quarterly Global Labor Market survey of 50,000 employees in 2012[2], came back with a similar finding, identifying job stability as of greater concern than salary.

Although the factors influencing employee satisfaction have varied over time, these findings suggest that throwing salary increases at the problem won’t magically resolve employee dissatisfaction. So, what will?

Based on CEB reports, SHRM research and Forbes, the following three issues rank highly on the list of concerns in the workplace:

  1. Does my company have a clear strategy?
  2. Am I respected and appreciated?
  3. Are corporate culture and office politics destructive?

This presents one possible framework for understanding what employees will respond to in an era of changing attitudes toward work, career advancement and work-life balance. New entrants into the workforce place more value on flexibility and control over their time. At the same time, many experienced workers are re-evaluating the relationship they have with work. Both of these groups are actively seeking out work environments that place a premium on strong culture while supporting personal growth.

Knowing this, how can an employer create the kind of work experience that will attract the best talent and keep them with the company longer?

Clear Strategy

If you operate in firefighting mode, everything is a crisis. But people can only cope so long with a prolonged state of panic. To avoid an epidemic of burnout and stress leave, some measure of stability is needed. Even if the competitive environment requires agility and the ability to respond immediately, management should at least create the impression that there is a clear, well-defined strategy. Less panic and more direction means more confident employees. This is especially true in the wake of global recession and continued uncertainty. Knowing that leadership and management are organized around a clear strategy and heading in a definite direction frees employees to focus on the task at hand.

According to SHRM, one way to solve this problem is to “build a bridge between employees and senior management by training line managers…to better understand the organization’s vision and share it with their direct reports. These managers can complete the information-sharing loop by sharing with senior management feedback from employees.”[3]

Communication and Respect

Annual performance reviews are not effective. They often result in employees defending themselves against management’s “suggestions for improvement,” or inwardly resenting an assessment that seems to have no immediate connection to the work they do. Feedback related to actions taken eight months ago seem hardly relevant in an environment that changes daily.

Ongoing communication and timely, specific feedback is far more effectual. An open system of continuous feedback and more honest dialogue between all parties means a win can be praised and a problem solved more easily, and while it still makes a difference.

Strong Culture and (Less) Office Politics

Destructive office politics can be a silent source of damage to employee morale and productivity. A culture rife with blame, recreational complaining and internal squabbles is corrosive to even the most seasoned employee. Rebuilding trust in such an environment is challenging and the impetus must come from the top. Culture and politics are two key lenses through which people view and experience work. The best places to work have high-trust, low-politics cultures. Conversely, when people quit, more often than not, they do so because they don’t respect or trust the people they work for and they’ve finally had enough of the way they are treated. Investing in a healthy organizational culture may prove to be your greatest competitive advantage in the war for talent.

Employee satisfaction will not sprout in a vacuum, nor in contaminated ground—it grows only when nurtured by respect and appreciation; open and honest communication; fair and timely feedback; and clear direction from trusted leadership.


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