So you throw some money at them. Sure, that’ll solve the problem. All anyone wants is a bonus or a raise right? Well, for a lot of people a good salary is enough to keep them quiet and still, at least until something better comes along. But if you want to cultivate an environment that will inspire employee loyalty, it takes more than arbitrary gestures and rewards. It takes a genuine commitment to creating employee morale and deep, lasting fulfillment. There’s no magic formula for that either, but it starts with a little common decency and grows from there.
Respect is a funny thing. It’s one of those ambiguous concepts that mean different things to everyone. We know when we have respect for someone else, and we know when we don’t. We know when we feel respected and we know when we are made to feel like dirt. Yet sometimes it can be difficult to put a finger on exactly why. When it comes to employee relations and keeping up employee morale, showing respect takes more than just a regular paycheck.
It’s easy to treat employees like a collection of mindless drones. It’s easy to play "Big Brother," to micromanage and offer copious criticism. It takes more effort to treat every employee as an individual and utilize their specific strengths. It’s difficult to trust people and to offer positive feedback in addition to constructive criticism. But sometimes, respect isn’t about doing what’s easy. Sometimes it’s about faith.
Ok, so we’re talking about business, right? There’s no room for touchy-feely words like “faith”. I get it: there’s a bottom line to think about. But respect isn’t a warm and fuzzy word. It is can be the make or break factor between an employee doing their best work and one who does just enough to get by, because they secretly hate management. As adults, we tend to think of ourselves as capable, responsible people. We like to be treated that way in our jobs. If you can’t trust and respect the people you hire, then the problem is probably in your hiring process. When you hire the right people, and train them well, give them the tools to succeed and the space to do so, that is the epitome of respect.
Every child prays that he or she will grow up and find a rewarding occupation. But as adults, many of us settle for something that “pays the bills” but doesn’t give us any real happiness. Deep down, we all still have the desire to truly enjoy the 40+ hours a week we spend earning our living. When employees feel trusted and respected, they are more likely to be passionate and invest themselves in the work they do. And that’s the kind of job performance that pays off in a big way for everyone.
Even when you treat employees well, thank them for their efforts and give them the freedom to absorb themselves into their work, they are going to need something more eventually. In our lives, we want to feel as though we are moving forward. If we don’t feel ourselves progressing, we may feel as though we are stagnating. But unfortunately in our careers, we often spend years just treading water and wondering when our ship will come in. The problem with many good— even great— jobs is that they are often dead ends.
Everyone wants to know what the next step will be in a relationship or in their career. We want to feel as though we are working toward something and not as though we are hamsters trapped in a wheel. If there is no way to move up or over, many of your best employees will eventually move on. It may be because they leave for better positions, or it may be because their frustration with a lack of mobility diminishes their job performance.
If an employee is constantly forced to watch some people gain more and more authority while his or her own time, skill and dedication is completely dismissed, that commitment will inevitably wane. Obviously, there are a limited number of higher-up positions in any company, so not everyone can get promoted every time they deserve it. But it’s within the boss’s power to add a skylight to even the most limiting of glass ceilings. I’m not just talking pay raises either. Cash incentives are absolutely a great way to show appreciation and growth. But if that’s not in the budget, there are other ways.
Letting qualified employees take on more responsibility, or have more influence in decision-making is always a great way to provide growth without having to create a new position. Sometimes, it really is as simple as letting someone take on a new project or making them feel like their experience and insight is valued in determining the direction of the business. If a person doesn’t ever feel like they are going someplace with your company, they will probably be going to someone else’s pretty soon.
Money, respect and growth potential are really important to employee satisfaction, but even if your company grants all of those things, some problems will still persist. If you don’t have a process for dealing with internal issues, no cash bonus, good will or promotion is going to be enough to keep your best talent. On top of the basics, workers need a way to vent their concerns constructively, offer suggestions and file grievances. It’s not enough to say “just tell the office manger” if the office manager is a busy body that nobody trusts.
Every office needs a way for employees to seek solutions to their problems in a real way. If legitimate issues are consistently not handled, employee frustration will eventually give way to deep dissatisfaction. A “suggestion box” is great if it actually gets used and if good suggestions are taken seriously. But if it’s an anonymous suggestion box, it needs to be in a place where people can drop ideas in it inconspicuously—which means the boss’s office is not the place for it.
The human resources department is meant to be a place where employees can go to lodge complaints. When it works well, it works really well. But when there is a breakdown, red-tape or complicated procedures, complaining about a problem can become more of a hassle than the problem itself. That is a major issue. When an employee has a problem that they can’t resolve, it will fester and grow. Eventually something will have to give and the situation is likely to blow up. This may result in you losing a great worker over something trivial that could have been resolved if there was a method for proper recourse from the beginning. In order for employees to stay happy, they need the opportunity to see their issues addressed consistently, privately and completely. Without that process, someone is going to wind up very unhappy— and someone may even wind up unemployed!
No one is completely blissful at work all the time. We all have good days and bad days. What it comes down to is how we feel at the end of the day: Do we count down the seconds until we can bolt for the door, or do we head out with a smile and satisfaction from another day’s work? As workers, when we are offered respect, a chance to grow and recourse for dealing with issues, we are much more likely to be truly content with our jobs. You can’t make everyone happy all of the time. The right combination of empathy and opportunity may keep the majority of your workforce happy— at least most of the time. Truly happy employees will be the ones that are most loyal, trustworthy, and productive. Happy employees are the ones that you are sad to see go, when they retire after 20 years of dedicated service.