Tech & Work

Job satisfaction is a balancing act.

A friend and colleague of mine just announced his resignation as CIO of his organization and has accepted a sweet position as CIO of another similar organization (same industry) where not only does he report directly to the CEO but has triple the IT budget.

I am extremely happy for him and will miss him, but I am also saddened by the fact that he left not for the money but out of frustration because of a lack of resources. He did end up getting a raise in the new job, but to him that was gravy on top of the mashed potatoes. The change in environment is what prompted him to leave.

His story though is not unusual, many employees, when they hit a certain income level, start looking for something other than money at work – they are looking for fulfillment or job satisfaction. For those of you familiar with psychology, you might recognize this as a level in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Whether you buy into Maslow's theory or not, there is no denying that in the majority of cases, money is not what keeps someone in a position. There are many factors involved in keeping an employee on the job and happy and productive. Personal growth, intellectual challenge, enjoyable work environment, meaningful work, self esteem, self respect, the respect of others, the ability to effect change, etc. all play a part.

I look at staff retention like I do a balance scale. On the one side you have all the positive things I mentioned above and more which we can generically call satisfaction, and on the other side you have all the negative things which I think can be lumped into frustration. As soon as frustration starts to outweigh satisfaction, the greater the likelihood that an employee will "start looking" or be open to invitations to leave. The more the scale is tilted towards satisfaction, the more productive the employee is.

Each person's scale in my opinion works the same way more or less; the difference is in the "weights." If you remember your scale balance from high school science class, some of the weights you placed on the scale were large and could cause a great deal of movement or tip of the scale, while others were smaller and caused smaller shifts. These weights on an individuals job satisfaction scale are defined and sized by the employee's character and personality. What's important to one may be insignificant to another.

Characterizing job satisfaction in terms of a scale is helpful when thinking about any employee (or yourself for that matter) and understanding what makes that person "tick." For instance, an employee may absolutely hate his job. He has items on his frustration side that weigh very heavily on him – yet his scale is in perfect balance. Why? Because he may have one item, such as his spouse's unemployment, or kids wanting to finish out in a particular school that push the satisfaction side down just as strongly. These employees are what I define as "trapped" by their circumstances and once those one or two items are removed – you can watch that employee literally "catapult" out of your organization.

Retirement is another one of those weights that are significant. As I have mentioned before, the Baby Boom generation is nearing retirement and I can't tell you how many people I hear on a daily basis that say "Two more years and I am SO out of here!"

The point of all this is that as a manager, you should be trying to keep your employees' scales balanced and know that each person's weights vary in terms of type and degree. Moreover, we're pressured as managers to behave consistently with our employees – however we must realize that we can be consistent in behavior yet tailor our interactions to the wants and needs of our subordinates – to a degree.

In order for us to manage in a fashion then that promotes staff retention, we have to actually get to "know" our direct reports. This doesn't mean you have to be best friends, but you need to know enough about them to understand what's important to them, their strengths and weaknesses, turn offs, turn ons, etc., in order to help balance their scales.

Knowing these will help you to develop management strategies for your employees that focus on growth and retention to the degree that you can. Unfortunately, as in the case of my colleague mentioned above, sometimes management doesn't have or is willing to provide the resources necessary to keep the scales balanced. When that occurs, good employees go out the door.

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