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Are You Out of Touch with Your Employees? Four Simple (and Free) Ideas for Workplace Morale

Job and career satisfaction is far more complex than fair pay and benefits. It's more about individual motivation -- something that can be tweaked by some of the simplest (and free) actions.

Employee happiness is a serious matter – an essential consideration for managers who want to retain top talent and avoid costly turnover. Yet check in with most old-school managers and ask what they believe makes their staff happy. Here’s what you will likely hear: competitive pay and benefits, pleasant office space, and a reasonable commute.  While these are important, they don’t tell the entire story. Job satisfaction for many of us depends at least as much -- if not more -- on intangible factors including respect, personal growth and engagement.

In a study entitled “What motivates employees according to over 40 years of motivation surveys” published in 1995 by Carolyn Wiley of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, survey results indicate that a series of intangibles drive worker happiness,  engendering a sense of commitment to the organization. These “little things” include: interesting work, appreciation for their work product, and a feeling of being part of things. Table III of this study ranks factors in workplace satisfaction over time.

Factors                                                1946        1980        1986        1992

Full appreciation of work done                    1              2             2              2

Feeling of being in on things                      2              3             3              9

Sympathetic help with personal problems    3              9             10            10

Job security                                             4              4              4              3

Good wages                                            5              5              5              1

Interesting work                                      6              1              1              5

Promotion and growth in the

organization                                            7              6              6             4

Personal or company loyalty to employees  8              8              8              6

Good working conditions                          9              7              7              7

We can be perfectly happy with our work, but unhappy in a specific company based on combination of factors including a bad boss, a secretive and top-down corporate culture, or even a single colleague who makes our daily lives miserable. We all have different definitions of what brings us job satisfaction.  That said, certain constants apply…  

1. Gratitude

A sincere word of praise is where job satisfaction begins for many of us. People need to have feedback concerning their work and need to feel competent. Employees are motivated by feedback recognition for the work they perform. A well-timed word of appreciation is often all it takes. Many supervisors make a point of highlighting what has gone wrong, but don’t take enough time to show appreciation for success. We can all think of an example where a manager has taken the time to raise a small error, perhaps a typo in an email, all the while ignoring positive developments. One of my early Wall Street mentors advised me that “done is better than perfect” applies only to entrepreneurs, not Wall Street and that I had better get used to working in a culture in which that oft-cited condition of “not being able to see the forest for the trees” might apply. That said, as critical as it may be to avoid errors in most workplace environments, as managers we also need to remember to pair fair criticism with fair praise.  Praise costs nothing, but its benefits are significant.

2. Respect

As with a willingness to express gratitude, showing respect costs nothing, yet wields a big payoff. Keeping employees happy means treating them with fairness and respect. It just seems like common sense that job dissatisfaction skyrockets when employees feel disrespected, demeaned or ignored. Respect means honoring our ideas and our time. Creating a culture of listening to one another and empowering some degree of decision-making and creativity -- these are simple incentives that makes us value our workplace.

3. Personal growth and engagement with mission

Most of us also want an opportunity to grow and learn on the job. We also want to feel a sense of purpose and engagement with the mission of our organization. Despite what management might assume about financial requirements, in fact, very few of us want to operate like robots until our daily tasks are finished. We benefit from a sense of professional and personal growth and an ability to see how our efforts make a difference to our teams and organizations. It’s not simply about the money -- or even the day-to-day work -- we need to perform. Offering a raise but keeping the job description may not be the answer. Likewise, dialing down the challenge for equal pay can have an equally negative effect if the employee is motivated by personal growth and challenge. We all benefit from a sense we are doing something we love. When we find work that uses all our capabilities and engages our values, we find happiness at work.

4. A good boss

Bosses play a key role in job satisfaction – so much so that it is fair to say that employees often leave bosses, not companies. A strong manager is a crucial element to a functional workplace. On the other hand, workplace dysfunction occurs when bosses are arbitrary, patronizing, or uncaring. Indeed, this is a rapid road to employees becoming dis-engaged and fleeing the organization. Personally, I’ve been extremely lucky to work with some bosses that would be rated “world-class.” My best bosses shared certain characteristics – characteristics that inspired us to achieve great results every day. Some of these qualities include: a contagious sense of positivity and enthusiasm; a skill for listening (up and down); a sense of purpose and engagement with our shared mission; and, most of all, a desire for his/her team to achieve new milestones of personal and shared growth.

Although I’m sure the results of job and career satisfaction surveys vary by gender, seniority, age and a host of personal characteristics, I do believe we create stronger and more functional teams and organizations by taking time to consider more complex issues of individual motivation.  Great managers don’t need to read the reports or study the surveys. In my experience, they “get it” on an intuitive level and, in doing so, benefit from a more productive, stable and “happy” workplaces.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Catherine Welker February 06, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Could not agree more. Claire Labrunerie has hit the nail on the head with this informative article.
JM February 07, 2013 at 12:28 PM
Hi Claire, good column and I imagine the survey data in 2013 is fairly consistent with past trends. In theory, I think employee morale is one of those things corporate talks about in public, but behind the scenes, I envision the top brass breaths a sigh of relief knowing their employees don't plan to stick around. Found that to be the case at IBM here in Westchester. If one does stick around too long they add you to a resource action. Nonetheless, what I find most amusing in today's job hunting (slash) networking world, to even approach this subject, to discuss it publicly and to advise on anything to improve morale or address retention -- gets one struck off the shortlist of HR recruiters (i.e. a potential troublemaker). I find it refreshing to approach the subject, just as I desire an employer to engage (trust) me with their long-term plans rather than shut us out. But here is the disconnect: I think the front line of hiring today is out of touch completely, for the goal is only ''a process'' of matching very specific and measurable skills, which eliminates the more fluid issues of morale, retention, engagement, ''being a good boss,'' etc. I find that in Europe, emotive trumps process, thus, perhaps that explains why there is a higher rate of happiness/retention/satisfaction there. :-)
buttons February 09, 2013 at 08:51 PM
interesting but are stats are out of order ?
buttons February 10, 2013 at 02:51 AM
should there be 10 categorys ?each year column is missing one number.
KC February 10, 2013 at 05:56 AM
As evidenced by diminishing benefits, increased workloads, unrealistic expectations, zero employee retention rates and general lack of morale employers couldnt care less about employees except as it relates to the bottom line. The article is sadly IMHO irrelevant.

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