Tech & Work

So you think you know your employees?

Research is clear - most bosses are wrong about what motivates employees. Leadership coach John M McKee presents some research and then comments about what's going on.

Quick - what's the most important key to employees' overall job satisfaction?

Is it money? Relationships? Healthcare? Or something different entirely?

A while back Harris Interactive and staffing / recruitment firm Spherion Corp joined forces to poll people at all levels about what matters most to them. The results showed one thing clearly: many bosses (maybe you?) don't have a clue. There were significant differences in the viewpoints of the worker and the boss about what motivates and drives retention.

The biggest disconnect between the groups was surrounding the whole issue of "life balance." Nearly two- thirds of employees said that time and flexibility are very important while only about 30% of the employers felt that issue would be a very significant factor for their teams. Other important variances:

    According to Management, these were most important to their employees:

Open door climate - 80%

Supervisor relationship - 80%

    Employees, on the other hand, said these were bigger issues:

Financial compensation and benefits - 68% (duh)

Growth and earnings potential - 64% (see above comment)

Culture and work environment - 64%

So, let's recap: We know that employees are "like other forms of human being" - they come to work to make the most money they can, working in a place that provides a fair balance of work/life time, they prefer to grow in their jobs, and - on a day-to-day basis - they want to be at a place with a culture they share and value.

One would hope that this is not really staggeringly-new insight here for the average boss or employer.

So why the disconnect? Why do so many manager types believe that their team members are more interested or motivated by an open door policy than a good paycheck? I believe this naivety may have to do with:

1. Many companies' beliefs that they already pay well enough and therefore don't need to focus on that issue, or

2. The fact that the financial spread is so great between what top executives report earning (millions) and what the average employee makes in the US. (about $32k).

People read. They investigate market conditions. They try to improve their quality of life. Today, more than ever, many are feeling at risk of being laid off and they are trying to look after their needs. If your organization is placing an overly strong emphasis on the right tools to motivate or retain, you'll be able to tell pretty easily.

The best way to assess the quality of an organization is by looking at who is leaving it.

More than who is joining, the departures are the most accurate indicator because it shows clearly when the best folks have decided to move on. When good people won't stay, the company enters a period of entropy. Nothing survives entropic situations.


Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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