Five Ways to Attract and Retain Superstar Employees

Attracting and retaining top talent have always been major challenges for employers. With a competitive economy and employees scanning the working landscape like never before, a healthy culture is the differentiator that attracts great employees and earns them loyal customers.

To attract, engage, and retain employees, employers must prioritize and focus on what will effectively help them create the most trusting, caring culture and thriving workforce. Employees have options and they know what they want. There exists however, a significant gap between what employees expect from their work and what many managers and employers think their employees want.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 25 percent of workers were actively seeking new opportunities for work. As we begin to emerge from quarantine, even more employees are weighing their options. It’s critical to know then, what your staff is precisely looking for!

The latest research indicates five major employee expectations, that if not met, exceptional employees will fire their boss and search for a company that does meet their needs. Exceptional employees demand exceptional leadership. Beyond fair pay, here is what great organizations provide

1. Meaningful work. The 21st century worker does not want to be merely punching time at the office. Employees are seeking fulfillment from what they do every day. 93 percent of workers believe that finding meaning in their work lives is a vital ingredient to their overall happiness. Their hunch seems correct. Employees who have a sense of meaning and purpose are more than four times as likely to love their jobs. This is important because thriving, happy employees are better employees — they are more engaged in their work, are more loyal to their employers, productive within their role and more meaningfully contribute to their organizations’ goals.  

Typical businesses go to great lengths to emphasize how things should be done but rarely emphasize why things should be done. This is counterproductive because if employees don’t know the reason for doing something well, they seldom will. Their “how to do it” achieves context only when they are clear on the “why they are doing it.” Ensuring employees understand and are aligned with the company’s mission and values is vital to that sense of purpose we all seek. Value compatibility and increased autonomy at work go further to solidifying purposeful work than free coffee, cushy chairs and any perk could ever provide.

2. Healthy relationships. The foundation for loving your work will be strong or weak, largely because of the strength of your relationships at work. There is a mountain of research declaring that those who have healthy relationships at work, not only enjoy their work more, but are happier overall and achieve more within their roles. In fact, most researchers claim that the number one predictor of a staff’s achievement is based on how they feel about one another.  Although managers do not have to be everyone’s BFF, building trusting, respectful relationships are nonnegotiable in building a healthy workplace culture.

Employees want to be seen as individuals and treated as such. One size fits all does not cut it in staff interactions. Having benefits customized to meet employees’ individual needs increases loyalty to their employer and organization. In addition, employees desperately want to be heard and to be able to express their concerns, weigh in on issues that affect them and feel safe to admit a mistake, freely propose a novel or risky idea, disagree with the boss, stick up for a co-worker, admit to not knowing something, request help, or question a proposal. They know that even when countering an idea, coming clean on how they messed up or raising a contentious concern, they will not be penalized or humiliated. The reason: because they know their voice matters and the staff truly cares about them as individuals. Sadly, a mere 26 percent  of employees are asked for feedback on a regular basis. Managers and employers would be wise to solicit continuous employee feedback on workplace perspectives, and most importantly, ensure that feedback is meaningfully acted upon in a visible way. Above all, get to know your staff as individuals not just a worker or someone filling a position.

3. Recognition: When asked what is the one thing they would change about their work culture, employees spoke as one voice in declaring they thirst for more appreciation. Employees are fuelled when paid in the currency of recognition. It increases its value when given according to individual merit. Frequent recognition is powerful partly because it builds gratitude and buffers against stress. Yet, a miniscule 37 percent of employees report being recognized at work for exceptional work. A whooping 76 percent say they do not feel valued for their work. It would be prudent for managers to realize that when they are stingy on recognition, they train their superstar employees to regress to the mean. When gratitude flows freely and abundantly however, employees feel valued and a sense of belonging increases. Recognition speaks to what the organization deems important and reinforces company values and exceptional performance, so pay lavishly in the currencies of recognition, encouragement, validation, inclusion and appreciation.  

4. Personal and professional development: Today’s worker expects more from work than a pay cheque. They seek opportunities to grow within the organization and to develop, both personally and professionally.  Even in companies that foster a culture of continuous learning, many focus strictly on training and growing their staff in the technical, professional areas. Great organizations tap into personal growth as well because they understand that by developing their employees’ soft skills, such as creativity, leadership, and communication, both the worker and the company win. Not only is their a solid ROI on the growth of and impact from the individual, but staffs that grow together tend to stay together and operate on a proficient level of excellence. Further to providing personal and professional training opportunities, it would be prudent for managers to evaluate and provide feedback to employees more holistically, including metrics around soft skills.

5. Clear communication: Communication is the lifeblood of the organization. Unfortunately, many organizational arteries are clogged with tidbits and fragments of ideas, expectations, information and instruction – leading to unhealthy workplace cultures. One in three employees say they have considered quitting their jobs because they are overly stressed from weak communication. Regular and frequent one on one sit-downs seem to be the most effective means for managers to clarify employees’ questions and shed light on an otherwise foggy workplace. The payoff for this effort?

Workers who check in with their manager at least weekly, as opposed to never, are five times less likely to be disengaged. These brief but unhurried one on one sit-downs are excellent opportunities to communicate with employees about issues affecting the company,  as well as the greater culture. It seems to be the easiest and  most effective way to ensure employees understand how their role contributes to the organization’s mission, so they fully understand how they help achieve success. It is also a prime time to highlight the employee’s strengths, value to the organization, seek feedback and bring the worker up to speed on anything new coming down the pipes.

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If employers expect their organizations to thrive, they need to rethink the experiences they are creating for employees, understand they need to value employees’ whole selves and individuality. More than pay, free coffee, or a company mug giveaway, workers are looking for meaningful work at organizations where they feel recognized and respected. The best way to attract and grow exceptional employees is to become an exceptional employer.

Notes and sources used:

1. Vaillant, G. The Triumphs of Experience:  The Men of the Harvard Grant Study. Harvard University Press, 2012

2.  Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t. New York: HarperBusiness.

3.  Diener, E., and Seligman, M. (2002). “Very Happy People”. Psychological Science, 13, 81-84.

4.  Campion, M.A., Papper, E., Medsker, G. (1996). Relations between work team characteristics and effectiveness: A replication and extension. Personnel Psychology, 49, 429 -452.

5.  Carmeli,A., Brueller, D. and Dutton, J.E. (2009) Learning behaviours in the workplace: The role of high-quality interpersonal relationships and psychological safety. Systems Research and Behavioural Science, 26, 81-98.

6.   Tran, Khoa T et al. “The Impacts of the High-Quality Workplace Relationships on Job Performance.” Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 8,12 109. 23 Nov. 2018, doi:10.3390/bs8120109

7. Di Fabio, A. Positive Healthy Organizations: Promoting well-being, meaningfulness, and sustainability in organizations. Front. Psychol. 2017, 8, 1938.

8.    Shenk, J. W. (June 2009). What Makes Us Happy? The Atlantic Monthly

9.   Pressman, S.D., Gallagher, M., Lopez, S. & Campos, B. (2014). Incorporating culture into the study of affect and health. Psychological Science, 25, 2281-2283.

10.  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7ff4/3f854207054ccd7c27c53807a7c485bd1bc7.pdf

11.   Morrison, R. (2004). Informal relationships in the workplace: Associations with job satisfaction, organisational commitment and turnover intentions. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 33, 114-129.

12.  Diener, E., & Seligman, M. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13, 81-84

13. https://resources.dynamicsignal.com/news-room/one-in-three-u-s-employees-are-ready-to-quit-their-jobs-due-to-poor-workplace-communication

14. https://www.metlife.com/content/dam/metlifecom/us/ebts/pdf/MetLife-Employee-Benefit-Trends-Study-2019.pdf

15.  https://blog.ttisi.com/what-do-todays-employees-really-want-from-their-employer

16. https://www.workhuman.com/press-releases/White_Paper_The_Future_of_Work_is_Human.pdf

17. https://www.hrreporter.com/focus-areas/recruitment-and-staffing/nearly-one-third-of-workers-plan-to-look-for-a-new-job-after-pandemic/329772