The 5 Things Employees Need Most

tips for managersLast month, I held a free 40-minute teleseminar focused on “5 Things Employees Need Most.”  Due to the overwhelming turnout for the call, I decided to share some of these needs with you.

Employees need to feel matched appropriately to their jobs. A good match includes interests, education, skill set, personality, and investment.  A couple of years ago I worked with a highly frustrated client who, halfway through her coaching engagement, concluded that she was in the wrong type of job.  In her early thirties, this woman was functioning as a midlevel manager within a very busy nonprofit organization that provides direct services 24/7.  She told me she felt like a failure.  At the time, she was supervising about a dozen case managers.  Her boss, the CEO of the agency, recommended that we connect by phone twice a month for six months.  The CEO’s expectation was that during that time period, I would up-level this young woman’s supervisory skills in order to improve the outcomes required of the folks who reported to her.  Once the client and I discovered that her primary personality traits shaped her into a person who preferred serving as a worker-bee rather than as a manager in the limelight, I knew the coaching purpose had shifted.  This situation was a bit like Cinderella’s step sisters trying to force their large, clumsy feet into the delicate glass slipper.  For me to stay in integrity as the coach, I had to inform her that the kindest and wisest thing she could do for herself and her organization was to seek employment that allowed her to shine in the way she was designed to shine.  Supervising other people and being part of a management team wasn’t it.  As long as she kept spinning her wheels where she was, the more upset she would become.  In addition, her boss, the CEO, may have no choice but to terminate her because she wasn’t inspiring her staff to produce essential results.  It turned out that my client decided to initiate a conversation with her boss and tell her the truth.  And then she began a serious job search.  The agency CEO allowed her to stay until she landed another position elsewhere.

They need to understand how their contributions fit into the bigger picture. The truth is that folks need a purpose that is higher than their job descriptions.  Last winter, I received a call from a 50 year old woman who held a demanding position within a rather sizable organization.  While she had a certain amount of job security because her particular position could never be eliminated and because everyone around her saw evidence that she could produce, she was annoyed with her circumstances.  As I explored this a little, I came to understand that she’d been doing great things over the past few years but had no idea how her contributions actually fit into the overall strategic plan.  This was a growing problem for her.  She explained to me that, as she aged, more and more she felt a need to know without a shadow of a doubt how her work specifically fed the organizational mission.  When she tried to talk to her boss about it, he always seemed to avoid the subject.  Maybe he dodged it because he himself wasn’t clear, or maybe it was a form of control.  Whatever the case, he didn’t provide answers.  And that’s why she contacted me.  Since he wasn’t going to move out of his position anytime soon, she thought it was time to start looking for another job.

People need to grasp their purpose for being there in that particular position, the purpose of that position, and how it fits into the company mission and vision.

They need to feel trusted. At this point in my own career, after working in a number of different environments and serving clients in about 22 industries, I have concluded that trust is the foundation for everything else that happens—or doesn’t happen.  A few years ago I had a client who was the managing director of a rural community based health agency that ultimately was responsible to a corporate entity elsewhere in the state.  This woman hired me to help her cope with the fact that she wasn’t trusted to make appropriate decisions by senior executives at the corporate office.  She cited various examples that she viewed as evidence of them not fully trusting her in her position many miles away.  She told me this situation made her feel inadequate, frustrated, and angry—and it seemed like her hands were tied.  When I asked her if she intended to stay in her job, she said she wasn’t sure yet.  She was receiving mixed messages from corporate:  On the one hand they expected her to make all of the important decisions for her service site; on the other hand, they stood in her way of making those decisions.

Along with this example, I need to say that most people don’t want to be micromanaged.  I’ve known a few who actually prefer this, but the majority of folks resent it because they feel like their boss doesn’t trust them to do their work well on their own.  As long as employees have received clear direction about how to proceed with projects and other activities, they should not have to endure someone standing over their shoulders.

They need to receive useful, regular feedback. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from my clients is that they don’t have a clear sense of how well they are meeting their boss’s expectations.  Either the feedback they get is too general to mean anything, or they don’t get any feedback for weeks on end.  Some even tell me that they don’t receive timely annual evaluations—or any reviews at all.  In my opinion, this is not acceptable.  About six months ago I coached a senior level manager within a state government system, and somewhere along the line she vented to me that, while she does have formal yearly evaluations, she gets almost no verbal feedback about her job performance at any other time.  This left her feeling confused about just how well she was doing and it made her nervous.  She realized it might have been dangerous for her to simply assume she was performing up to par when perhaps she wasn’t.  My guess was that she probably wasn’t doing anything egregious, because if she was, she’d most likely hear about it.  But I told her that I thought she was missing out on opportunities to receive deserved praise and opportunities to benefit from her supervisor’s input about all sorts of things.  Upon hearing that, this woman said that she often felt too alone, and occasionally like a sitting duck.

Employees should not have to wander around in the dark, but too many are doing just that.

They need opportunities to grow. Occasionally I have come across someone who isn’t interested in growth and development on the job, but it has been rare.  Generally employees, no matter what their position, desire to increase their knowledge, expand or fine tune their skill set, and take on more responsibility when the time is right.  Not everybody seeks a promotion, but those who don’t usually prefer to grow where they are.

A few years ago I worked with the manager of a hospital ancillary department who was highly frustrated because the folks above him showed no interest in hearing his ideas to improve essential processes.  Further, they didn’t seem to care that he desperately wanted to help make decisions that impacted work flow and participate in an interdepartmental committee whose focus directly related to his job.  After being in the position for seven years, he felt that it was time for him to spread his wings a bit.  He wanted to do things outside of his typical day to day managerial duties listed on his job description.  The problem was that nobody else understood this, regardless of how often he tried to communicate his desires and preferences.  Eventually he concluded that he was stuck, that senior leaders liked things the way they were, and that nothing was going to change.  When I asked my client how he was dealing with all of this, he told me that in recent months he’d become very vocal about his frustrations, and that it wasn’t going over well with his supervisor who liked when he put his head down and simply kept quiet.

One of the best things bosses can do is to sit down with employees and create a mini professional development plan together.  That way, a road map exists for making sure the required and desired growth occurs over the course of a year.  The plan may include things like:  seminars and workshops, conferences, online classes and courses, article reading, webinars, and regular college course programs.

Among these 5 things employees need at work, which of them are you getting on a regular basis?  Which of them can you honestly say are true for you now?  Hypothetically, let’s say that you are getting 4 of these things but not all 5.  Consider the one you aren’t getting:  How much does that matter to you?  Is it something you can deal with?  Or is it something that you know you can’t do without much longer?

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