Find out what drives your employees

April 19, 2024 By    
Photo: pugun-photo/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Employees crave recognition, respect and a sense of significance within their workplace. (Photo: pugun-photo/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

As a manager, do you understand what your employees really want?

Instinctively, most of us would say “money” or “a raise,” but is money enough? Don’t get me wrong. Most of us work because we need to provide for our families. But is there more to it than money?

Big companies such as Amazon, McDonald’s and Walmart are driving up wages, offering large sign-on bonuses. But that only gets the employees in the door and may not be enough to make them stay. According to a 2021 Gallup survey, if employees are engaged by a leader they trust, it can take a pay increase of more than 20 percent to poach them away.

Listen to employees

Recently, I came across a social media discussion among front-line workers asking, “Would you recommend your employer as a place to work?”

My HR-inquiring mind had to read further. Contrary to what you might think, pay was not the focus of the conversation. In fact, pay was mentioned only as an afterthought at the end of a thread. The majority of comments centered on management, company culture, and tools and resources.

Some noteworthy remarks included:

“My company allows me the flexibility to accompany my dad to his treatments once a week.”

“My manager sought my input last week on improving a process.”

“My supervisor previously held my position, so he comprehends the challenges, especially during peak seasons.”

And my personal favorite: “Our owner meets with us outside in the freezing cold before our shifts, showing he’s not averse to inclement weather.”

Why is this last one my favorite? Because it demonstrates that the manager met employees where they were, not where it was most convenient for him.

Retention reminders

We already know most of what we need to know about retaining our front-line workers, but here are a few reminders:

  • Treat everyone fairly, acknowledging that fairness isn’t synonymous with uniform treatment but rather equitable treatment.
  • Acknowledge and value employees’ contributions, showcasing their role in the company’s success.
  • Familiarize yourself with your employees’ motivations. Different individuals are driven by different factors; some appreciate public recognition, while others prefer inclusion in decision-making processes. Discover what drives them.
  • Involve employees in scheduling decisions where appropriate. Recognize that employees have families and personal lives, and minor adjustments to schedules can have a significant impact.

Among the fundamental needs of individuals lie fair compensation, job security and access to necessary tools and training. However, equally vital are feelings of security, respect and overall well-being.

The overarching message from my “eavesdropping” is clear: Employees crave recognition, respect and a sense of significance within their workplace.

Kathy Johnson is executive vice president and chief human resource officer for EDP. She leads an HR team that serves the company’s 700-plus employees. With more than 20 years of HR experience, Johnson has an undergraduate degree from DePaul University and a Master’s of Jurisprudence in Employment and Labor Law from Tulane University. She can be reached at or 312-254-5977.

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