Are your Employees Taking Advantage of You?

by Cindy Gordon

Would you agree that some of your employees are rock-star performers, some are just OK, and, for a small few, you’d like a genie to change them into statues so they stop disrupting others?

Let’s take a minute and think about your workforce. How many people are engaged at work — that is, involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace? How many employees are highly disengaged — working only when necessary and probably spreading negative feedback about the company and its management?

The rest of your workforce would be considered somewhat engaged — they get their job done, could be working more effectively and are probably staying with your company because they are comfortable and are OK with the paycheck.

If your business is like the national average, according to Gallup, your percentages would look like this:

Engaged employees

Actively disengaged Somewhat engaged
33% 16%


Based on the Gallup averages, we have found that these numbers translate into an organization losing up to 18 percent of the productivity they’re paying their employees for. Therefore, if a company pays annual salaries of $1,000,000, they would only be receiving $820,000 of output value. For a small business, losing $180,000-worth of productivity is a huge hit to the bottom line!

The Good News

The good news is that the bleeding can be stopped! Over the past few decades, there has been a lot of research that delves into what motivates people. What has consistently been found is that one-size-fits-all strategies just don’t work. Therefore, it’s essential to understand your workforce on more of an individual level to improve their engagement.

A business leader (I’ll call Frank) told me his key employee, Sandy, was leaving his company because she had found a job that paid more money. What surprised Frank was that his company’s overall compensation package was far more lucrative. Frank’s compensation strategy included a generous 401K plan contribution. He felt it was important to help his employees save for the future. Sandy felt that at this stage of her life she needed more money upfront. She’d just had a baby and wanted to purchase a larger home for her family. Frank knew this, but his stubbornness cost him a great employee because he didn’t consider her needs.

Here are five areas of needs that should be discussed and considered with your employees.

Safety and security — This would take into consideration areas of physical and emotional safety, as well as ensuring your employees are clear on their role/responsibilities.  Do they feel adequately trained to do their work well and have the proper tools and resources to work at their best? How can a person do great work if they don’t feel secure in their ability to meet expectations or safe to ask for help?

Financial Compensation — Most people don’t feel they are paid enough. Yet, we find that when more important needs are being met, compensation takes a back seat in priority. It is important to ensure that your employees are being paid in line with the market rate, but don’t depend on financial rewards to improve their motivation and productivity. Don’t risk losing a good employee because of salary. It will cost you much more to replace them.

RelationshipsPeople don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. Have you taken the time to build a strong rapport with your employees? What do you know about their personal lives? How do you show them you’re invested in their future? Do you know their personal and professional aspirations and have you worked with them to create a plan to help them get there? These are all great ways for strengthening relationships. When you show someone you have their back, they’ll repay you many times over.

Recognition — Employee surveys consistently show that people are not getting the recognition they desire. When someone does good work, they want to be acknowledged for it. It’s human nature. We all want to be appreciated. Recognition, like other employee engagement strategies, can’t be used arbitrarily. For instance, if the go-to “I appreciate you” gift is a $20 Starbucks card, what if your employee doesn’t drink coffee, or doesn’t like Starbucks? You just spent $20 to say, “I know nothing about you and really don’t care. But thanks for your loyalty.” Recognition is a powerful employee engagement tool when you understand who they are and recognize them in a personalized way.

Personal growth and fulfillment — When a job opportunity gives a person the opportunity to make a difference, they are more committed to the organization and determined to bringing their best. People want to feel they have contributed to a cause. Employees are not interested in your goal to be the best or your financial gains. That benefits you. They want to understand how they are impacting the lives of others. Whether you make fencing materials or cure cancer, your product or service is affecting others in a positive way. Each employee helps to make that happen, so use your company purpose to influence the fulfillment each person gains from their work.

By moving the needle on the level of engagement in your workforce ever so slightly, you’ll be making a long-lasting impact on your business’s success. Like all good things, it takes time and attention. However, opening conversations with your employees to learn about their needs in the five areas discussed above and setting out strategies and actions to meet their needs will show your employees you are invested in them and their future with your company. You’ll see their appreciation through the effort they bring to their work. We have seen dramatic improvements in our clients’ employee productivity and engagement levels with strategies that concentrate on these employee needs.

Cindy Gordon is an Employee Engagement Egghead who helps small businesses be more successful by bringing a sense of fulfillment to people through their work. To learn more about how she works with her clients, visit her website or email her.

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