20 Things That Matter to Your Employees

It’s no secret that many businesses are struggling to find and keep good employees. A common refrain is that this is due to a strong economy and low unemployment rate. And these factors are most certainly at play. But at the end of the day, employees choose to stay or leave for a variety of reasons.

Is there a way to make your organizational turnover magically disappear? No. But there are really just two basic steps to recruiting and retaining great employees:

  1. Find out what they care about.
  2. Do your best to provide it.

If you want to hang onto your best people, it serves you well to find out what they value and begin to shape your corporate culture around those key things.

What are employees looking for?

Don’t get stuck in the mindset that a paycheck is the only thing that matters. Yes, compensation is important. And it still ranks near the top of the list when it comes to reasons to take or leave a new position. But today’s employees care about a whole lot of things. And unlike during the recession, they aren’t afraid to venture out looking for new opportunities that provide them.

Lots of research has been done on what employees want out of their jobs and careers. If you want to take a direct approach that applies specifically to your team, business and industry, ask your employees what matters most to them. Survey your entire team regularly and commit to conducting exit and stay interviews with your best employees.

If you want some quick answers based on employee satisfaction research and studies, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s a list of 20 things that show up time and time again on the list of things employees want and need from their employers in order to be happy and satisfied at work.

  1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to employees. Hint: Fair, honest, and respectful treatment of all employees at all levels has become a basic expectation.
  2. Fair and adequate compensation – Employees will accept lower salaries in exchange for other meaningful things, but at the end of the day they need to feel valued AND be able to make rent.
  3. Comprehensive benefits – Healthcare is becoming a larger driver of job choice and satisfaction. Today’s job seekers are expecting to see benefits information listed up front in job postings, and they are using that information to make career decisions.
  4. Career development – Dead end jobs are so yesterday! If your employees can’t see a path for the future within your organization, they’ll start looking elsewhere.
  5. Trust – Levels of consumer and employee trust are at an all-time low. A culture of transparency will go a long way toward increasing staff loyalty and engagement.
  6. Meaning – Your employees want to be connected to something bigger than their To Do list. They want to work for companies who are doing good in the world, and they want to know how their work contributes to that vision.
  7. Flexibility – Employees are balancing a variety of responsibilities, both at work and at home.
  8. Balance – More and more people are prioritizing a healthy balance of work and rest. Your staff is willing to work hard, but they can’t (and won’t) do it 24 hours a day.
  9. Recognition – Feeling valued and appreciated is critical to keeping your team happy. This doesn’t have to mean constant praise or raises. But they need to feel that their work is important and that they are valued both as people and contributors.
  10. Communication – Poor communication and lack of information are top complaints of unhappy employees. It’s a basic thing that is often overlooked. Don’t be that employer.
  11. Culture – Nothing chases good employees away faster than a toxic manager or culture. Tolerating a negative environment and destructive behaviors will encourage bad employees to stay and good employees to leave.
  12. Leadership – Organizations with weak leadership will have a hard time hanging onto strong employees. Lack of clear direction, goals, and expectations leads to lack of engagement. Bottom line: positive, motivated employees want to work for positive, motivated leaders.
  13. Autonomy – Employees want to feel like their ideas matter and that they are capable of running projects and making decisions. Micromanagement will crush employee innovation, creativity, and initiative. It will also destroy engagement and morale.
  14. Teamwork – An environment of support and collaboration is far superior than working alone or in a vacuum. Even the most independently motivated workers want to know there’s a capable team behind them they can count on.
  15. Technology – Your employees want to be good at their jobs, and they expect to be given the tools to do so. Outdated tools and processes will quickly frustrate those who strive for high performance and continued improvement.
  16. Training – Developing your employee skill sets doesn’t just help you and your company. It shows your employees that they are worth investing in. And it keeps their work from becoming monotonous, boring, or stagnant.
  17. Diversity – Employees come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and preferences. Your employees crave variety and so should you. Not only do diverse teams perform better, they open the door to a wider pool of talent.
  18. Sustainability – Think people aren’t concerned about the long-term survival of their jobs, companies, communities, and the planet? Wrong. Sustainability has become a catch phrase for a reason, and today’s employees are factoring corporate social responsibility into their career choices.
  19. Integrity – For better or worse, employers lead by example. Increasing numbers of employees are looking for employers who demonstrate things like honesty, fairness, and equality, and they can tell the difference between companies who talk a good game and actually follow through.
  20. Security – Employees want to be part of financially sound and stable organizations. Yes, today’s workforce is mobile, but it’s not just about random job hopping. Career moves and decisions are often based on forward motion, increased opportunities, and the ability to get ahead financially. A chaotic, unpredictable, or volatile environment won’t feel like a safe bet.

How do you measure up?

Is your organization committed to providing some these kinds of things? If not, it’s time to start— unless you secretly enjoy higher turnover, lower productivity, and a constant struggle to find good people.

In that case, forget about this list and keep on churning through your staff. Your competitors will be more than happy to snatch up your best employees.


Photo by WAYHOME studio

Complaints Happen. What’s Your Policy for Handling Them?

You’re a great employer. You offer competitive wages and benefits, remote work options, paid time off, and even have an office dog. What could employees possibly have to complain about?

Maybe nothing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a complaint policy in place just in case.

Dealing with discontent

Even businesses who try to do everything right sometimes end up in situations that cause unease for employees and trouble for the organization.

Employees could be unhappy about a number of things that are affecting their work environment or even their personal lives. Some will suffer in silence, some will simply leave, and others will gather the courage to speak up.

When thinking about these options, it makes sense to ask yourself which scenario is best for your business.

Would you rather have:

  • Disgruntled and disengaged employees?
  • Constant turnover?
  • An opportunity to learn what employees want and how to get them to stay?

You don’t know what you don’t know

Even the best business owners have seen things go awry at work. You could have a rogue supervisor or employee that’s acting inappropriately, a frustrating new technology, or a compensation structure that just isn’t keeping up.

You may think you don’t want to encourage employee complaints, but there is a big downside to a complaint free workplace.

If no one says anything, you’ll keep on trucking along, never knowing the real drivers of employee disengagement and turnover. Worse yet, if there’s some serious behavioral issues, you may be blindly heading toward a public relations nightmare and/or an expensive legal battle.

Create space for complaints

In doing so, you will also create space for growth and improvement.

The key to effective handling of employee complaints is to create a policy that is timely, confidential, and fair.

1.) Don’t wait.

If an employee lodges a complaint and nothing happens, this sends one of a few messages:

  • We don’t care.
  • Your concerns have no merit.
  • Yes, this is happening. And we have no desire to change it.

The longer you sit on these things, the more uncaring (or guilty) you appear. Whether or not that is the case.

Even if you are taking the time to research the issue and carefully respond, you’ve got to let people know. Communicate that the message has been received, tell that person you are looking into it, and provide a rough idea of when they can expect to hear back from you.

2.) Keep it confidential.

There are many reasons employees don’t speak up about sensitive issues.

  • They’re shy, uncomfortable, or embarrassed.
  • They don’t want to make trouble.
  • They’re afraid of retaliation.

A process that protects people during the complaint process is going to allow a more authentic conversation. Not only does it protect the person with the complaint, it protects anyone who might be on the other end of it until the matter can be resolved. The last thing you want is a sensitive complaint making its way around the organization before the facts have been laid out.

A good policy will provide a clear structure for how to go about lodging employee complaints. The nature and severity of issues could vary greatly, so make sure to build in multiple reporting options. Someone who feels harassed by their direct supervisor won’t feel comfortable lodging a complaint with that person. Create opportunities that allow for maximum honesty and fairness. 

3.) Check bias at the door.

You heard the part about fairness, right? With society more divided than ever, remaining impartial is becoming extremely difficult. According to Wikipedia, even Sweden isn’t truly neutral. Whaaaat?

The point is, people are picking sides on all kinds of issues and events based on personal beliefs, experiences, and what they’re seeing in the media. Many times, our “data” sources include incorrect information, rumors, or worse yet— gut feelings. And many of us are sticking to our tightly held biases, no matter what kind of facts and evidence are revealed. This isn’t good.

Life doesn’t happen in black and white. Getting to the bottom of employee complaints includes a lot of gray area. Make sure those who are handling complaints in your company are able to step back, remain objective, and look at the situation with impartial eyes.

It’s important that all complaints, investigations and resulting actions are applied fairly and consistently, each and every time.

It’s also important to recognize the opportunity for growth.

Keeping an open mind means more than just giving each employee the opportunity to speak up. It means being willing to look deep inside your company and see potential problems and other unpleasant things that may be happening, with our without your knowledge.

No complain, no gain

Hearing honest feedback isn’t always fun. It can be annoying, uncomfortable, and even downright painful.

But, if you’re able to reframe employee complaints as a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and growth, you could very well be on your way toward better communication, streamlined processes, lower turnover, and happier employees.



The Powerful Recruitment and Retention Benefit You’re Not Offering

Employers who want great employees are having to work harder and harder to find them, and to get them to stay.

This has many innovative organizations and Human Resources departments re-thinking their employee benefits strategies as a way to attract and retain talent, which is good. But there can often be a disconnect when it comes to perceptions about what employees really want. And too many employers are missing the elephant in the room.

Crushing Student Debt

The elephant metaphor works all too well here. Student debt is a huge issue that weighs heavy on your employees. And yet few employers are recognizing the extent of the problem.

Many people associate student debt with a particular subset of the workforce, namely fresh college graduates and junior employees. But a riveting study by CommonBond tosses those ideas out the window.

The reality is that student debt affects a huge portion of your employee base. Of 1,500 workers surveyed:

  • 72% reported currently having student loans or having had student loans in the past
  • 59% of employees aged 22 – 44 currently have student debt
  • 21% of employees over the age of 45 currently have student debt

But that’s not the end of the story.

  • 21% of respondents said they plan to take on debt in the next five years to finance someone else’s education.
  • And 10% of respondents said they are carrying their own student debt, plus that of a friend or family member.

With the total U.S. student loan debt sitting at 1.4 trillion dollars, there are far reaching consequences, both for your employees and your business.

Debt rolls downhill

Employees starting their careers with massive amounts of debt are less willing and able to “put in their time,” “work their way up,” or “take one for the team.” It’s not that they don’t see the value in some of these things. They simply can’t afford to do them. The days of “paying your dues” are over. For today’s workers, it’s all about paying your loans.

If you’re wondering why job hopping seems to be the new normal, it’s all related. Research shows that the best way for an employee to get a significant pay raise is to get a new job. In this kind of employment environment, those with sizable loan debt won’t think twice about accepting a more lucrative offer somewhere else.

Debt-ridden workers in all stages of their careers are delaying important life decisions because of student loans. For many employees, things like getting married, having children, buying a house, and retiring are concepts that seem far out of reach.

In the meantime, their debt is seriously stressing them out. Between 46 and 53 percent of workers with student debt reported worrying about their personal finances “most of the time” or, worse yet, “always.” If you think this isn’t affecting workplace productivity, you’re still not seeing the elephant.

Here’s the deal

Your employees took out loans to improve their skills and make them more valuable to employers. Now that they’re employed, they want financial stability. But their student loans are getting in the way. And they need help.

And it’s not just recent graduates who feel this way. The CommonBond study showed that the vast majority of employees want to see their employer offer student loan benefits.

Here are the percentages of employees who have (or plan to take on) student debt that want their company to offer student loan tools and resources, broken down by age:

22 – 34            81%

35 – 44            77%

45 – 54            75%

55 +                 65%

But it doesn’t end there.

Across every single age category, these numbers jump significantly when those employees were asked if they would be more inclined to stay at their company if they were receiving student loan repayment benefits:

22 – 34            87%

35 – 44            88%

45 – 54            83%

55 +                 78%

If you’ve been searching for that magic employee attraction and retention tool, look no further. It’s right in front of you.

But you’re not offering it

SHRM research has revealed that only about 4% of employers are offering some kind of student loan repayment benefits. With demand being what it is, this seems downright silly. Especially in a tightening labor market.

One reason that helps explain why student loan benefits aren’t more common is that employers haven’t quite caught on to the fact that this is a top concern for their employees. Perceptions of company leadership and HR are often quite different from those who are actually working within the organization, on everything from what motivates them to what attracts them and makes them want to stick around.  

If you want to attract and retain the best employees, you need to start thinking like them.

  • What kinds of things are they looking for in an employer?
  • What values do they care about?
  • What issues are they struggling with?
  • What’s holding them back from being the best employees they can be?
  • How can you help?

Still not sold? Here’s one more statistic for you:

The American Student Assistance survey found that with all else being equal, if a prospective employer offered a student loan repayment benefit, 80% of respondents said it would have a considerable impact or be the deciding factor in the decision to accept the job. Talk about a hiring advantage!

If you haven’t thought about finding ways to help your employees with student loans, now is the time. The sooner you get on board, the more you can differentiate yourself as an employer of choice. And start helping your employees become, more productive, more financially stable, and more likely to stick around.


Photo by  Elnur Amikishiyev

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook 

Why Your Vacation Policy Sucks

All you want is an organization full talented people who work hard and are in it for the long haul. Is that too much to ask? Not if you’re taking care of them.

Your employees can’t be “on” all the time. And there’s this little thing called life that demands their attention on a regular basis. Giving your employees what they need to be successful includes giving them enough time off to manage the demands of work and life. But in far too many cases, this isn’t happening.

Sure, you have a vacation policy on the books. But is it equitable, reasonable, or sensible? Just because a policy exists doesn’t mean it’s good.

Too little

How much vacation do you give your employees? Do you start them off with a set amount or make them work an entire year before banking their first 5 paid days? Expecting someone to happily and effectively work for a year without vacation may seem reasonable to some employers, but ask any employee how they feel about that and you’re bound to get an earful.

Do you increase available vacation time the longer people stay or do you give everyone their two weeks when they start and continue that until the end of time? It’s nice to have a minimum standard, but as people move up in their careers, they expect to take on more responsibility. And they expect that additional responsibility to come with more trust, more flexibility, more money, and more time off. 

Is your sick time super generous but your vacation time fairly slim? Yes, there are employees who need more sick days, and they should be able to take them. But healthy, reliable employees shouldn’t feel like they are being penalized for always showing up. Knowing you have chunks of paid time off sitting around that you can’t actually use feels a bit punitive.

Too much

No such thing, you say? We beg to differ.

Do you have an unlimited vacation policy? Is it so vague and misunderstood that no one ends up taking any? This isn’t going to win you any points.

Is your vacation time based on seniority? Do your long-time employees have exponentially more vacation days? And are they snapping up all the coveted dates before anyone else even gets a shot?

Yes. Vacation in October is still vacation. And they say New England is lovely that time of year. But once your up-and-coming employees figure out they won’t be able to take time off over spring break or the 4th of July until their kids are out of college, this is going to be a problem.

Too late

You may think paid vacation is a small thing, an extra that your employees should be grateful to have at all. And if you’re comparing your vacation policy to what it was like for your great grandfather, you might be right.

But life is very different now. And so is work.

  • Many families are dual income, which means there isn’t anyone at home to just “take care of things” as they come up.
  • Working adults are often responsible for aging parents as well as young children.
  • With the cost of living continually rising, many people can’t afford to take unpaid time off.
  • Workplace stress is on the rise, and more and more individuals are struggling with mental health issues.

If your paid time off policy doesn’t give your staff the time they need to take care of business and themselves, they will become less satisfied, less productive, and less inclined to stay.

Fix it!

The nice thing about your company policies is that you have the power to change them.

Ask your employees what they like and don’t like about your current policy, and listen to their feedback. Little changes can go a long way toward making your team feel valued, appreciated and supported.

Not sure where to start? Here are some quick ideas:

  • Ditch the old sick day vs. vacation day mentality and move to a paid time off (PTO) system. Your employees need time away from the office. Period. Don’t make them get sick (or tell you they’re sick) in order to take it.
  • Give all new employees at least some usable PTO when they start. If they already have a trip planned when you hire them, honor their plans and their time. Don’t make anyone work for you for an entire year to prove they are “worthy” of a little rest and relaxation.
  • Create a vacation policy that rewards longevity with increases over time, but still gives less senior employees time off when they want and need it. Consider closing your office down for a week around Christmas, the 4th of July, or any other time of year that is particularly slow for your industry. Chances are good that many of your customers and clients are also out of the office. You could also consider incentives for people who work peak vacation times, a rotating holiday schedule, or even a lottery system. A little creativity can go a long way here.
  • If you decide to go with an unlimited vacation policy, make sure to spell out the process clearly for everyone. How much notice is required? Are there any blackout dates? Is there a maximum number of days? Better yet, is there a minimum? A common problem with an unlimited vacation policy is that many people are afraid to use it, either because it’s too undefined, or because they feel guilty about taking the time. They may also not know how to manage their workloads if they do use it. Put systems in place to support people who are out of the office and encourage them to take time off regularly. If you see employees going a year or more without taking vacation, meet with them to find out why.

Happy, productive employees don’t just magically happen. Employers who take the time to discover and deliver what they need will be the ones who come out on top. 


Photo by Juergen Faelchle

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook

Structuring your Flexible Workplace Plan

It’s no secret that today’s employees value flexibility. And with healthcare costs continuing to skyrocket, workplaces that allow employees to balance the demands of work, family, and health are becoming increasingly important for employers as well.

If your company hasn’t looked into ways to attract and retain talent by offering a variety of work and scheduling options, you’re falling behind the curve.

But you can’t just throw any old program together. Your flexibility plan needs to have a solid structure behind it.

What makes sense?

Depending on what kind of organization you’re running, the level of flexibility you are able to  offer will vary. Things like telecommuting, variable hours, and job sharing can work really well in some situations but be nearly impossible in others.

Even if you are really excited about the idea of being more flexible as a company, you’re going to need to examine just exactly what you can and can’t do.

Questions to ask:

  • Do flexible work arrangements make sense based on the type of work your staff performs?
  • Are their departments/positions where it could potentially work well?
  • Are there certain areas or locations where it just isn’t feasible?
  • How will you manage that difference?

Remember that flexibility comes in all shapes and sizes. If you can’t offer remote working options, perhaps you can be more flexible with hours and shift schedules. Or your paid time off policy. Or your dress code.

Evaluate each department separately to see where you can flex and where you can’t. If you’re not sure what your employees want, ask them. A simple employee survey can be very enlightening. Maybe all they really want is a new coffee machine in the break room and an extra ten minutes to enjoy it.

Once you’ve decided where you can be flexible, you’ll need to put a plan together that makes the can-dos work and the can’t-dos clear.

How will it work?

Offering to be more flexible without setting clear guidelines will only cause confusion for employees and frustration for you. You’ll need to create a well-defined structure and details for how your new policies will work.

Consult with department managers and supervisors to flesh out your ideas. Tell them what you’re thinking and brainstorm any issues that might arise, both with the implementation of the policy and the subsequent management of it. Work together to design a policy that mitigates any potential negative consequences while focusing on the benefits.

As you put your plan together, think about how offering alternative working arrangements can benefit your organization as well as your employees.

  • Could offering remote working options help your company reduce operating costs?
  • Would providing shift flexibility improve your recruitment and retention efforts?
  • Might altering your appearance and/or experience requirements open up a whole new applicant pool?

Being flexible in your processes isn’t just a way to do something nice for your employees. Being open to different ways of doing things can facilitate new opportunities for everyone involved. Including your business.

What happens when it doesn’t?

Even with the best laid plans, there will no doubt be instances where things don’t go the way you envisioned.

Whether it’s an employee who is taking advantage of his newfound flexibility, a remote worker who isn’t pulling her weight, or someone who discovers a loophole in the new policy, you’ll be much more prepared to deal with these situations if you’ve got clear procedures in place.

Develop strategies for how to address issues like absenteeism and poor performance, then put them in writing. Best case scenario, you’ll never need to use them. Worst case scenario, you’ll be glad you took the time to document them.

Keys to success

Employees want flexibility. And employers want happy, healthy, productive employees. Offering strategic alternatives to old-school, rigid workplaces can help you build a better team— and a better business.

Here are some ways to maximize your chances of success:

Do the research – Look at what other organizations are doing and talk with them about ideas and implementation. Take advantage of their hard-earned wisdom, and learn from their mistakes and successes. Keep in mind that every industry, business, and workforce will have different needs and solutions.

Get buy in – If your leadership and managers aren’t on board, it will be much more difficult to effectively create, implement, and manage these changes.

Empower employees – Involving staff in the process will ensure you’re giving them the benefits they truly value, instead of offering random perks you think they might want.

Set parameters – Make sure you have systems in place for when things go awry. Your policy should include clear and specific procedures to address employees and/or situations that clearly aren’t working.

Strong but nimble

Today’s employees want to be able to balance the many demands of work, life, and family. Finding ways to provide that kind of environment will give you a serious edge when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to bend over backwards. Take a careful look at your organization to see where and how you can offer employees the options they crave. Then, put some structure behind your willingness to flex.

Building a solid framework for your new policies will help support your efforts, your staff, and your business.


Photo by Prostock-studio

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook