What Do Employees Want?

It’s an important question for municipal leaders to know as the public sector prepares for a wave of retirements in coming years

It’s often said that the main thing employees want is not necessarily more money. To the extent that’s true, it’s good news for leaders of municipal departments, who don’t have the option of giving out big raises and bonuses to top performers.

But if money isn’t employees’ chief desire, then what is? And what can cities, villages and towns do to make themselves attractive to the people they need to replace an aging workforce, who will soon retire in large numbers?

In a sense, there are no clear-cut answers — different surveys reach different conclusions about what keeps employees engaged and what makes them stay put. But in another sense, most surveys point in similar directions when it comes to factors beyond pay and benefits that keep people satisfied.

The bottom line

The key point to remember is that employee satisfaction is directly linked to a team’s or an organ-ization’s performance. A 2006 survey, Working in America: What Employees Want, conducted by Harris Interactive and sponsored by Kronos Inc., found that 82 percent of workers who are satisfied with their employers feel motivated to perform beyond their daily duties.

On the flip side, more than half of employees who were unhappy with their employers said their dissatisfaction discouraged them from giving extra effort.

Another study by Deloitte Consulting found that companies on the Fortune magazine list of Best Companies to Work For consistently outperformed the S&P 500.

And yet, the Working in America survey found only 36 percent of employees said they worked for organizations that invest in key initiatives that create job satisfaction. When people in this survey who were satisfied with their jobs were asked why, the top three responses were:

• I like my boss.

• I am treated with respect.

• My employer pays me well.

Other perspectives

Of course, many surveys look at the factors driving job satisfaction. A study published by Human Resource Planning surveyed employees from a wide range of organizations and jobs. To those people, the most important drivers of job satisfaction were, in order:

• Opportunities for promotion and advancement

• Trust and respect

• Open and honest communication

• Fair treatment

• Challenging and interesting work

• Competitive salary

• Health care benefits

• Competent management

• Support from management

• Meaningful work

In another study, the Job Satisfaction Survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and CNNfn (the financial network of CNN), employees ranked these attributes as the most important, again, in order:

• Benefits

• Compensation/pay

• Feeling safe at work

• Job security

• Flexibility to balance work and home life

• Communication with upper management

• Relationship with immediate supervisor

• Opportunity to use skills and abilities

• The work itself

• The overall corporate culture

And thirdly, in their bestselling book, Love ’Em or Lose ’Em, dealing with employee retention, Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans listed the top reasons employees stay where they are:

• Career growth, learning and development

• Exciting work and challenge

• Meaningful work, making a difference and a contribution

• Great people

• Being part of a team

• Good boss

• Recognition for work well done

• Fun on the job

• Autonomy, sense of control over my work

• Flexibility, for example, in work hours and dress code

Pay and benefits ranked eleventh on their list, which also included inspiring leadership, great work environment, job security and family-friendly conditions.

Factors in common

It’s easy to see common elements in these lists. It’s also interesting to see the range of positions in which pay and benefits fall in the rankings. Be that as it may, municipal agencies have limited ability to use dollars to attract and keep people. The alternative, then, is to create working conditions in which people feel comfortable, enjoy their jobs, and want to give their all.

In an article published in Fast Company magazine, Kaye and Jordan-Evans offered tips on overcoming what they called the “satisfaction gap.” They find that when asked how thrilled they are with their jobs, people give a wide range of answers, but there’s always an “except for” — something wrong or missing.

“One employee wants autonomy, and another craves recognition,” the authors write. “Others want a promotion or work-life balance. What thrills us at work is as unique to each of us as our fingerprints. Spend time with your employees to clearly define what rings their chimes. Ask them to list their IJPs (Ideal Job Parameters).”

They suggest asking questions like: What would make you jump out of bed in the morning, eager to go to work? If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most about work? Which of your job tasks would you like to do more of?

The answers can help supervisors determine what matters most to each person, and then match those items to the opportunities in the workplace.

“It sounds so simple, and of course it’s not,” the authors stress. “Humans are complex, and successful managing is part art and part science. Sometimes your most talented people must move on to be satisfied and successful. Often, though, moving out is not the answer. Talking it out is. Most employees can get exactly what they want, right where they are. You can help them do that.”

It’s a thought worth noting in a time when talent is a precious commodity, destined to become more so.


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