Torn Between Keeping People Happy and Delivering Company Results? Do Both

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For some workers, consistent visibility to leaders who can influence their future can prove more meaningful than a pay raise.

The great resignation. Quiet quitting. The great reset. Mass exodus. As a leader in the turbulent workplace of today, trying to keep your workforce engaged and satisfied, while delivering on your organization’s expectations, can be maddening, like a perpetual cycle of no-win tradeoffs. 

In today’s market, finding the right balance between what the company needs and what your employees want can feel impossible. Err too far on the side of company needs, and you’ll have dissatisfied employees and high turnover. In fact, it’s been suggested that Amazon could essentially “run out” of available workers in the United States by 2024 because it has such a high turnover rate.

In reality, companies that make true employee satisfaction a priority will ultimately put themselves on stronger financial footing. Employees who enjoy where they work will be more engaged and productive, and more likely to contribute to your organization for many years to come.

Finding ways to improve employee satisfaction while still meeting company needs will prove key for senior leaders as they make decisions that guide the direction of their organization.

Highlight Your Collective Purpose

In my own research, I’ve found that trying to focus on the individual happiness of each employee is a fool’s errand for senior leadership. The higher you are in your organization, the lesser your direct influence over each person’s happiness. 

Instead, senior leaders should strive to highlight the collective purpose and values of their organization. In fact, research has found that roughly nine out of 10 people are actually willing to earn less if it means they can do work that they find more meaningful.

Dan McCarty, CEO of Infusion for Health, recently offered some additional insights into this. He explained, “An organization with a strong sense of purpose communicated from the top-down helps team members find value and meaning in what they do. Clearly communicating your company’s greater good can help individual employees connect what they do with the overarching purpose. Even more importantly, it can help them connect their work with their personal beliefs and goals.”

Give People Ownership of Their Experience

Many companies have resorted to things like free lunches, onsite fitness and daycare centers, or meditation rooms to express care for their employees. While some of these benefits certainly improve the employee experience, they do little to up employee engagement, and therefore, happiness.

Rather than relying on perks, senior leaders should prioritize creating work environments in which everyone is given a chance to explore their potential. Ensuring that governance systems allow employees to solve the problems they directly touch is the first step. When people are able to participate in making decisions that directly impact their work, their sense of ownership, and therefore, engagement increases.

Take the example of one organization I worked with. A company-wide assessment revealed that the majority of their employees felt ambivalent, disempowered, and cynical about their work. The senior leader I was consulting proposed a solution. She wanted to schedule a series of town hall meetings and luncheons to re-energize her people. However, I warned her this plan would fail. Her employees didn’t need to hear a motivational speech. They needed her leadership team to align on major initiatives and deliver consistent messages. In order to accomplish this, she had to stop micromanaging and give more ownership to the people below her.

Instead of resorting to her initial quick-fix solution, she did what only senior leaders have the power to do—she reshaped the organization to improve the experiences, and performance, of her people. She developed “live hack sessions” facilitated by middle managers in which workers could discuss real issues and brainstorm ways to resolve them. Next, she overhauled governance systems. Decision-making processes were pushed lower in the organization and supervisors were provided with the resources they needed to carry out solutions. Finally, she initiated customer panel groups that allowed employees to hear about the successes and failures within their specific markets. This helped dramatically restore a sense of pride and personal ownership throughout her division.

Offer Benefits and Perks That Matter

In a 2019 study, 68 percent of workers who earned $150,000 or more per year were “very satisfied” with their job. On the other hand, only 40 percent of those who earned less than $50,000 felt the same.

Money isn’t the be-all end-all for job satisfaction. But in financially uncertain times, pay and benefits packages are a top consideration for many. If someone feels they aren’t getting paid what they’re worth, they probably aren’t going to stick around for long. Notably, over half of those who left jobs during the “Great Resignation” did so in search of higher pay.

It can cost up to a third of a worker’s annual salary to hire a suitable replacement due to lost productivity, hiring expenses and more. Offering a competitive salary and investing in meaningful benefits (including promoting a healthy work-life balance) may look like an expense, but this can help you avoid the significant losses associated with turnover.

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Enhance People’s Visibility Across Your Organization

Studies have found that 94 percent of employees who receive daily recognition from their supervisor report being satisfied with their job. As the frequency of recognition decreases, so too does employee satisfaction.

As McCarty notes, “When people feel seen, they feel empowered. Everyone wants to be noticed and feel like their individual accomplishments matter. When senior leaders actively engage with their employees, they can better understand their perspectives and contributions, as well as the challenges they face. A culture where individual recognition and interaction with leaders is a regular occurrence can help each employee feel valued and better understand why their contributions matter.”

For some workers, consistent visibility to leaders who can influence their future can prove more meaningful than a pay raise. When people feel like their contributions are noticed and valued, and people of importance now know who they are, their sense of self-worth—and sense of commitment to your organization—can increase dramatically, regardless of other factors.

Not Sure Where to Begin? Just Ask

Without satisfied employees, you’ll never enjoy the level of continuity and commitment that drive results. If you’re not sure what other actions you should take, allow employees to voice their concerns or suggestions—free from negative consequences. Cultural problems or a perceived lack of investment in their success are issues that senior leadership often won’t recognize on their own. But gaining these insights could help you spur organizational change that improves individual satisfaction. You’ll gain the buy-in and insights necessary to improve your work environment and drive stronger results.

Ron Carucci is an Advisory Board member of Ethical Systems as well as cofounder and managing partner at Navalent. He is the bestselling author of eight books, and his work has been featured in Fortune, CEO Magazine, Harvard Business Review, BusinessInsider, MSNBC, BusinessWeek, and Smart Business.

Reprinted with permission from Forbes.