Taking the Mystery out of Employee Job Satisfaction

Recently a Wall Street Journal article caught my attention . . . it was “Thinking of Quitting? The Boss Knows.”  It was about companies doing employee research to discover when they would likely experience turnover. First, I applaud any and all efforts to better understand what employees are thinking, but I hope employers aren’t forgetting the daily importance of effectively managing and leading employees.

Over the years I have found surveys and other employee research to be extremely beneficial.  But, and it’s a big but, if companies are relying on surveys and data analysis to determine if employees are satisfied with their company it could be too late. There was nothing in the article that would surprise you, including the fact that one company found that team size and managers’ performance turned out to be powerful influences on attrition, especially among employees working in large teams with low-rated managers.  Certainly no surprise I’m sure to any of you!

But nowhere did I read that these companies were also focused on the importance of having managers personally connect with employees and really understand what motivates them, what job or personal issues do they have, and all the things that people experience that get in the way of individual job performance. I have found in over fifty years managing and leading people that every employee is unique, and their challenges and successes need to be addressed as individually as possible. While there are some common attributes to effectively managing and leading people and teams, personal one-on-one attention makes a huge difference.

My advice is don’t wait for the data to determine what’s best to do. Take the initiative and utilize good management and leadership skills. I suggest the following:

  • Make sure employees understand your company’s and department’s vision and mission. How do they personally contribute and what’s most important to the company or team’s success? And, importantly, do they fit in with the company’s culture? Make sure the company’s vision and mission is a compelling one and that it’s exciting and worthwhile to each employee.
  • Try to understand employees’ personal goals. Whether you have five or fifty employees reporting to you, it’s critical to know as much as possible about them personally. Sure, some people are private, but make a solid attempt. It will be rewarded. Know where did they grow up, what was their background, what kind of education do they have, are they married, any children, and what are their goals and aspirations, short and longer term, and more. If your company offers special testing like behavioral assessments,  call reluctance, and so much more, review it and understand how each employee differs from the norm. You need to find their individual “hot button” and what motivates them.
  • Do they have clear goals and how are they performing? Are they getting what the need to succeed? Where do they want to be one year, five or twenty years from now? How can you help them reach their goals? Regularly help them assess how they are progressing and help them chart a “success plan” that together you can follow.
  • Everyone can get better. What specifically can they improve to better meet job and personal goals? What is each employee’s most important need they can work on. Help them do it!
  • Make sure they know you care about them personally.Are you connecting with them? Some folks are easier to connect with than others. But easy or hard, make the effort to connect with all employees. 
  • Are they engaged? From everything you can observe, on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the most engaged, rank every employee in terms of their engagement. Do they understand the company’s and department’ goals, are they actively trying to meet them, are they offering ideas and suggestions, are they excited about their job and career?
  • What can you do to recognize them? No question that money is important, but recognition should not be underestimated. Are you recognizing and rewarding them? 

Don’t get so bogged down with the day-to-day job that you don’t get up from behind the desk to see what’s going on first hand. What’s working and what’s not? What are the disconnects? What can YOU improve?

The people on your team are the biggest differentiators you have.  They can make the difference between success and failure.  It was in the early 70’s when I first heard Zig Ziglar.  He always had great sayings, and in his Mississippi twang he said “you can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want”.  Boy is he so right.  By helping and serving your employees – and others too – you will make yourself a winner.


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