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1 thing leaders miss about employee satisfaction

The most successful leaders know that when people are happy, they stay. The more you invest in your employees, the more they will invest in your company. It takes time and dedication to develop a culture of satisfaction at work, but it’s worth it. This is because when they care about their employee satisfaction, they motivate them to go beyond their expectations for themselves and the company. They’re less likely to look for other opportunities or go for competitors who might offer an enticing package with better benefits or compensation. Make sure you’re doing everything possible to keep key people satisfied!

Deciding to stay or deciding to leave aren’t two sides to the same coin — they’re different coins

We all “know” that according to their satisfaction, an employee chooses to stay or to leave. Why then do we sometimes see seemingly happy people choose to leave (often sadly and regretfully) or unhappy people choose to stay (and still seem motivated)? The reality is that we make the mistake of thinking that what keeps someone from being dissatisfied will also keep them satisfied. Here’s the one reason why that isn’t always true:

Dissatisfaction is not the opposite of satisfaction.

The opposite of dissatisfaction is the absence of dissatisfaction, just like the opposite of satisfaction is the absence of satisfaction. This might seem bizarre, but it makes more sense when we consider the difference between hygiene factors and motivating factors at work.

Hygiene factors are things like compensation, job security, status, company policies, and work conditions. If these things aren’t done well, then this can cause your people to become dissatisfied. But if the hygiene factors are done well, then this won’t make them satisfied; this will simply make them not dissatisfied.

No matter how much you get paid, compensation will never make you love your job.

But it may prevent you from hating it.

Motivating factors, on the other hand, are the “softer” things that are harder to pin down. For instance, we can think of challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth. What satisfies us are the intrinsic conditions of the work itself, not the bells and whistles. These are the things that make us want to do more — and they can only be found inside ourselves and our work.

We all know of people working corporate jobs who say “can’t complain” when you ask how they are. So why do they drag themselves from Monday morning to Friday afternoon? We’ve also seen start-up people who are worried about their futures and salaries but are extremely motivated by what they do. And they aren’t even the founders! It seems uncommon to see people that have both hygiene factors and motivating factors. So when you do meet someone like that, you can’t help but feel envious of how much they genuinely love their jobs.

You can’t use hygiene factors to solve the absence of motivating factors. And you can’t use motivating factors to solve the absence of hygiene factors. This is what many leaders miss when trying to make their people happy.

You need both if you want your people to love working for you. As a leader, there is only so much you can do about the motivating factors for each employee in your business — that’s why you have managers. [Actually, that’s why you need good managers, but more on that later.] So, start with the factors that are a bit more tangible.

Start With The Hygiene Factors

    Take job titles seriously. 

Think about how differently you treat emails from a “Manager” compared to an “Associate” even if the content of the email is identical. Whether it’s on LinkedIn or in an email to a customer/supplier, your employees want to be taken seriously and feel proud of their position. Do your best to make the role sound important (without misrepresentation, of course). A good example is Secretary vs. Executive Assistant. This may seem small, but it can make a difference in the pride your people feel for their roles.

    Be clear about expectations. 

This is the underlying principle of policies. Communicate to your employees what you expect from them, what they can expect from working for you and what they can expect from one another. “Can I work from home?”. “What can I do to make sure I pick my kids up each day from school?”. “How should I conduct myself at work?”. The value of policies is that they remove ambiguity and vagueness by making work more straightforward. They also reduce the number of minor decisions management has to make. Policies aren’t necessarily bureaucratic. If you make these policies with your people’s best interests in mind, then they will likely be more content.

    Pay people fairly. 

When it comes to compensation, everyone always wants more money, but there is an ideal point you want to reach and that is to pay them enough that money is no longer on the table. That’s it. The principle here is equal pay for equal work. Ensure you have properly evaluated your jobs and have market-related salary bands. Constantly check that there is no bias or discrimination in how different employees are paid (this sounds obvious, but it can subtly creep in). Once all parties agree that the remuneration seems fair, then the money is no longer an issue and people focus more on their work.

    Make work safe and comfortable. 

When it comes to work conditions, forget the ping-pong tables and fancy pause areas. People want to enjoy their work, but they know why they’re there. They just want the basics: better air quality, access to natural light, comfortable temperatures, and the ability to personalise their workspaces. Take this a step further by developing an employee wellness programme and do what you can to improve the well-being of your people. Healthy people are effective employees.

    Help people land on their feet. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how volatile employment can be, so unfortunately job security can’t be guaranteed. However, you can help with someone’s employability. By giving your people the opportunities to develop useful knowledge and skills, you can help them become more employable whilst reaping the rewards of well-honed skills. If people do leave (either out of choice or due to circumstances), then take the time to write them a recommendation and endorse them on LinkedIn. If you can’t guarantee them a job, then at least you can guarantee to help them find a new one.

Discover The Motivating Factors

Once you have delegated the development and refinement of your hygiene factors, get going on the motivating factors. These are less straightforward than the hygiene factors because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, they strongly depend on your culture and how much of an interest you take in your people and their interests.

The way to uncover what makes your employees feel satisfied is simple:

You ask them.

Of course, not everyone is going to be equally satisfied all the time. That’s normal. We’re human after all. But, what works in one area of your business will very likely work elsewhere, too. That’s how culture works. So, when you do your bi-annual pulse of employee satisfaction, pay close attention to which teams/business units respond the best. [I guarantee that you will see this at a team level and not an individual level, which is why good managers are important.]

To find out how to maximise your employee satisfaction across the board, find the most satisfied teams and dig deeper to find out why they are so satisfied. Go interview them and their managers. What are they doing well? Where are their strengths? What could other teams or managers learn from them?

Most importantly, answer the question: how can we use this information to coach our other managers to make their teams more satisfied?

Once you have this information, then see how this moves the needle. Do some analyses to see how these satisfaction levels relate to team or business unit performance and employee turnover. You will very likely see a correlation. Then keep measuring every 6 months. But, the most important part is to make sure you constantly update your thinking on what is working so that you reinforce this within the strong teams and help the weaker ones develop.

This is not a once-off exercise. If taken seriously, this is one of the most critical tactics to develop your culture and your managers. At the end of the day, your managers serve a critical role of maximising the motivation of your people. Make sure you have the right people in your management seats that you’ve motivated to get the best out of other people. Then equip them with the skills, support and resources to do so.

Rinse and Repeat

Remember that employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction are different and can co-exist. Ensuring that your business won’t be retrenching employees and encouraging your people to work remotely might prevent them from actively looking for other jobs. But these alone won’t make them want to stay. Giving your people opportunities to work on projects they’re passionate about and recognising them for the impact they’re making might make them want to stay. But it won’t prevent them from leaving for an opportunity at the likes of Google.

The world is never stagnant and neither are people, which is why it’s important to keep up with them. There are two simple truths though: nobody wants to feel dissatisfied at work; and…

Everyone wants the motivating factors.

Give your people management practices a rinse by re-evaluating your hygiene factors. I couldn’t help myself from making the hygiene pun. Then, ensure that they are fair, applied equally and have your people’s best interests at heart. Once you’ve gotten to the point of delegating the formalisation or implementation of the hygiene factors, you will have the clarity and opportunity to take a closer look at where the motivating factors are most present in your business. Once you’ve found them, be intentional about measuring and implementing the motivators across your teams. Make sure to constantly develop your managers to own this process so that it becomes part of your culture.

Over time, start comparing the results of your employee satisfaction measures with your business and team performance measures. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results that you see. Those results will convince you to do the most important part in maximising the factors that help keep your key people satisfied…