Beyond Monetary Compensation, What Do Employees Really Crave?

All successful organizations rely on the performance of their employees. Whether you are a manufacturer, service business or not-for-profit, it’s your employees who make the difference in achieving organizational success. However, many companies fail to keep their employees engaged in their jobs, leading to low productivity and increased turnover.

Is it really that important to have engaged employees? In short, yes. As IRIS reports, the Workplace Research Foundation found that employees who are highly engaged are 38 percent more likely to have above-average productivity.

But according to research by Gallup, 70 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged at work. What can leadership do to turn these numbers around? Money can be a key factor in recruiting talent, but you can’t buy engagement on the job. So how do you get your employees excited about work?

Some might say health care, work-life balance or job security are top factors, but those are just table stakes. To really have an engaged workforce and get employees excited about where they work, you need to consider these three key factors: recognition, a clear path for advancement and confidence in your company, leadership, and culture.


Recognition doesn’t mean gifting employees a watch after 20 years of service; it means publicly acknowledging employee contributions on a regular basis. Most managers want to recognize their employees, but few have a formalized process reminding them when, for what, and how they will recognize the members of their team. The result is that new priorities arise and people get busy, and so opportunities for publicly acknowledging team members’ successes are few and far between.

It’s critical to create and follow processes that measure team members’ progress and signal managers when recognition is due. Seventy-two percent of respondents of this Harvard Business Review study rank recognition given for high performers as having a significant impact on employee engagement. Not building frequent recognition into your management process is a big mistake, but it’s one that can be easily avoided.

Managers can keep journals or even a spreadsheet of team member activities and dates of recognition. Without tracking these events you’ll never know if your team members’ contributions are going unrecognized. Always keep the focus on real, recognition-worthy achievements; don’t invent something to recognize your team for or provide recognition where it’s not deserved.

A Clear Path for Advancement

Having a plan for long-term success at a company is a critical factor for successful employees. They need to know that there is room for them to grow and advance. Meeting with employees, discussing their goals and determining their path is a crucial job for any manager. Helping them visualize the path to achieving their career goals in this way gives employees the motivation to excel in their current role.

Confidence in the Company, Leadership, and Culture

In order to feel great about what they do, employees need to feel like it’s going to make a difference. Organization leaders need to communicate how the company is going to be successful, and how the employees contribute to that success. Seventy percent of employees who lack confidence in leadership aren’t engaged, according to Dale Carnegie Training. Employees must have confidence in the leadership and the success of the company in order to believe their work will make a positive impact.

Linking your corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts to company success metrics is another way you can build employee confidence and engagement. The Dale Carnegie Training study showed that 54 percent of employees who were proud of contributions their companies made to society were engaged. So be sure to share and celebrate your CSR involvement with your employees. Feeling confident and proud of the company they work for is a reward employees crave, but they may not share this point on feedback reports or in one-on-ones.

Do employees crave a high salary? For sure they do, but to really have an engaged, high-performing workforce you need more than just good pay. Regularly recognizing your employees’ successes, showing them a clear path for growth and giving them the confidence to feel great about the company they work for are things that all employees crave. Be sure to include these points in your HR planning, even when employees may not verbalize these needs out loud.

Did I miss something in this post? Do you agree? I value your feedback and would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Note: Cover image is from a Comedy Central short entitled “Workaholics”, you can watch it on Youtube here.

Mutual Leadership

How Mutual Leadership Helps High Performing Teams Avoid Meetings & Increase Productivity

Note: This is a guest post I wrote for the PureMatter blog. You can find the original post here.

Have you ever been part of a team that had to have a meeting to discuss the merits of every decision on a project? I’ve been on that team many times. Traditional work teams often fail by seeking a consensus on each decision of a project, rather than finding the best solution. The result becomes a solution full of compromises, but one which no one would claim to be ideal. This is where I feel understanding the idea of mutual leadership can really benefit your team.

My experiences with high-performing teams, however, have been much different. High performing teams build trusting relationships and get to know the strengths and weaknesses of their team members before they begin a project. It is within these teams that I have witnessed what I have come to call Mutual Leadership.

Mutual Leadership is a team dynamic where members quickly claim project roles based on skills and expertise, and take on a leadership role in these areas to find an optimal solution. When skills are needed that team members don’t possess, they recruit another member. When a team member recognizes his or her core skill set is not required for the project, they offer themselves as a resource. This adaptive process allows team members to work asynchronously instead of using a linear process, which can dramatically reduce the time to complete a project.

In a mutual leadership scenario, team members become invested in the solution much more deeply than those working in a consensus-driven environment.

Thanks to technology, the Internet, and an abundance of online collaboration tools, organizations today are relying more on cross-functional and remote teams to accomplish key projects. These team members are pulled in many directions and often find it difficult to prioritize time for projects outside their primary responsibilities. This is where buy-in becomes a key factor in keeping people committed.

Work teams that practice mutual leadership and self-delegation of tasks have a greater sense of ownership both in their work responsibilities and in the overall outcome of the team. Single leader teams delegate work assignments but retain much of the responsibility for the project, and are disproportionately recognized in their contributions towards the team’s success. Mutually led teams share responsibility and ownership of the project resulting in more equitable sharing of team success.

Key Elements of Mutual Leadership

  • Build trust before the actual work starts
  • Inventory skill-sets sharing strengths and weaknesses
  • Let team members claim work responsibilities in an area of their strengths
  • Defer to peers in the areas they have chosen to lead
  • Emphasis on productivity discipline rather than leadership style
  • Ideal in cross-functional and remote teams

A Better Way to Work
Mutual leadership can happen when team members have a clear understanding of each other’s core skill areas and have some level of trust built up from past experience. Newly formed teams should consider participating in a trust-building exercise or work on a smaller project together before trying to implement this process. In my experience, the practice of mutual leadership occurs most naturally when it’s observed being practiced by other teams in the organization. In this way, it is taught by example, and mutual leadership becomes part of the organization’s culture.

One team I participated on invited me to assess my strengths using the book Strengths Finder by Tom Rath, and share the results with the group. I found this to be a great way for me to reinforce my own EQ (Emotional Intelligence) as well as a great icebreaker to introduce me to the team. Look for ways you can share learning experiences like this with your team to build trust and learn more about the members of your team.

In many situations, the practice of mutual leadership enables work teams to get projects done more efficiently and effectively than using a traditional top-down management approach. High performing teams practice mutual leadership by assessing their skills, self-delegating tasks, and allowing team members to take the lead role for the work activities involving their strongest skills. The result is often faster delivery, fewer meetings, and greater buy-in and recognition for participating team members. Share your thoughts or experiences with mutual leadership or similar collaborative work processes in the comments below.