Monthly Archives: April 2019

What do employees really want?

When I was in Army Basic Training I had a drill sergeant who often said, “The reward for a good job is no punishment.” He always said it with a smirky grin. Although that sounds rather harsh, it has more than a grain of truth. Doing a good job should be the rule, not the exception. That’s in contrast to getting rewarded for simply participating. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Perhaps it’s time to pause and consider what employees want. Hint: it’s not “everyone gets a trophy.”

For managers who want to reward a job well-done or simply encourage their employees it is useful to know what motivates their employees. A recent Gallup leadership survey revealed that employees considered the number one characteristic of a good leader is that he or she cared about their employees. The question to explore then is: how do leaders show they care for their employees?

A partial answer to that question can be gleaned from a February 27, 2019 Gallup website article by Dan Grafstein entitled “The No. 1 Strategy for True Inclusion in the Workplace.” In it, the author states that there are three things managers must do to have an inclusive work culture. Presumably, these are what employees want from their employer. They are: 1. Everyone treats everyone else with respect; 2. Employees are valued for their strengths; and 3. Leaders do what’s right.

Larry Chapman and Paul White, authors of “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” say that what employees really want is appreciation. Contrast that with recognition, which White says is an emphasis about improving performance, and is essentially about behavior. Also, recognition is top-down. Often, when employees are recognized with awards and celebrations it creates division in the team. Other team members may be resentful of a fellow employee receiving recognition when they did not, especially when they felt that they were doing just as good a job.

What team members really want is appreciation because it focuses not only on performance and on the person’s character and value. Showing appreciation for employees is good for the company and the person. Recognition programs are not necessarily bad, but they are not the best way to make employees feel valued. So how do you make employees feel valued? The answer is to know what motivates individual employees and to use the language that conveys that feeling.

According to Chapman and White, there are basically five things that motivate employees. They are:

1. Words of affirmation – using words, written and spoken, to affirm the employees value and character. The employee who is motivated by this feels appreciated when they hear words of praise, especially if those words of praise are spoken in the presence of a customer or client.

2. Quality time – giving someone undivided attention, such as in a conversation, small group discussion, retreats, etc. One of the best ways for an employer to show this is to actually listen to the employee and show that they are listening.

3. Acts of service – doing something for someone else. This could be helping someone else solve a problem or, conversely someone else showing that they care for the other employee by solving their problem.

4.Tangible gifts – providing thoughtful relatively small gifts such as tickets to a concert or athletic event, meals, etc. The employer should make sure it is a gift that the employee would appreciate.

5. Physical touch – handshakes, pats on the back, hugs, and high-fives are not valued as much, but can be a useful sign of appreciation, depending on the person. In today’s workplace, physical touch should be used with caution.

Finally, employers these days face employee motivation challenges like never before. The work force is not the same and the work is not the same. Employee engagement takes commitment.  And it is a serious issue. According to the Gallup organization’s State of the American Workplace report, just 33% of employed residents in the United States are engaged at work.  The report mentions there are three types of employees: the engaged employee, the not-engaged employee, and the actively disengaged employee. The engaged employee “works with passion and feels a profound connection to the company. The Not-engages employee is essentially “checked out.” The Actively disengaged employee “undermines what the engaged coworkers accomplish.”

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at