When you meet someone for the first time, what are the first things you reveal as you introduce yourself? Typically, people exchange names and then one person will ask something like “So what do you do?” or “What line of work are you in?”. We talk about our jobs often, but that does not necessarily mean we are satisfied with our job or that we plan to stay long-term. You may be surprised to learn that there is quite the discrepancy between what employees want and what employers think employees want.
Employers were asked to consider a list of 10 things employees could want from a job and rank them 1 through 10 based on what they thought was most important to employees. The employers ranked good wages as number 1. Interestingly, when employees ranked the same list, they reported being appreciated for their contributions as most important. For them, good wages were only number 5 out of the 10! Employers were pretty far off in seeing the significance of appreciation - they ranked it number 8 out of 10. As shown in the figure below, there was a clear discrepancy between what employees said they wanted compared to what employers thought they wanted. This study took place a few decades ago, but the findings have been replicated across several studies in recent years, meaning that this disconnect between what employees and employers is not a new phenomenon.
So why does this matter? When employees aren’t getting what they want out of their work, they may be less productive and more prone to feeling exhausted, mentally/emotionally distant from their work, negative/cynical about their job, or incapable of completing their tasks. These symptoms are all part of work burnout. For more information, visit the Mayo Clinic or the World Health Organization online.
Our Military REACH team recently wrote a report that helps employers think about the best ways to foster a workplace that encourages employees to productively remain with an organization for the maximum period of time (i.e., an antiburnout environment). The process of fostering this type of workplace is called retention, and our report explores retention using examples relevant to child care agencies. There isn’t any algorithmic formula or magic trick for enhancing retention, but research has shown that there are strategies that can increase employee job satisfaction and, in turn, keep high-quality employees long-term.
Here is a glimpse of some of the recommendations we put forth in the report:
Think about fit. When recruiting and hiring new employees, make the interview and training process transparent. If there are challenges, make them clear. The right candidate will be enthusiastic regardless of challenges.
Involve leadership. Involve higher-level staff in training to show that employee success is important. Foster open communication with meetings where employees give feedback, ask questions, & discuss ideas with management.
Express gratitude. Show genuine and personalized appreciation in multiple ways, such as direct expressions (written note, verbal “thank you”) or by using platforms to recognizing excellence (meetings, social media). Partner with local entities, such as parks and restaurants, to provide tangible tokens of gratitude to employees.
Encourage growth. Employees need the opportunity for professional growth, whether through workplace training, formal education, or certifications. When possible, cover the costs of specific trainings that will enhance employees’ on-the-job skills and provide clear opportunities for advancement within your organization.
Support wellness. Consider collaborating as a way to provide health benefits and prioritize wellness. Partner with state parks and local gyms for free or reduced membership rates, or fund access to a health and wellness app.
Find opportunities to be flexible. Identify ways to promote flexibility, such as providing options to work from home, allowing time to attend family events and appointments, and offering job-sharing options.
Prioritize feedback. Ask employees about the challenges related to their job (directly or anonymously, in person or through surveys). Asking is a great first step, but following through by integrating employee feedback into tangible changes that employees can observe gives them a voice and affirms their value within the organization.