What do your employees really want?
  • leadership
  • Blog post

What do your employees really want?

Most people believe that “numbers drive the business.” There’s no question that businesses are judged based on the numbers they produce. But let’s dig a little deeper: If numbers drive the business, what drives the numbers? The answer is … people. Dig deeper still and ask, “Well, what drives people?”

Beyond the money
Is it a paycheck? Probably not. Plenty of research shows that workers want more from their careers than money. Is it getting the chance to work with top-of-the-line technology and resources every day? Not necessarily.

Factors of engagement
One answer lies in a Harvard study on employee engagement. Researchers analyzed the contents of 12,000 diary entries made by employees in a lengthy research project involving several companies. They identified three broad categories of “events” that people commented on at the end of a given day:

  • Nourishing events: for example, a show of respect or encouragement from a manager that could increase one’s sense of well-being
  • Catalytic events: for example, being given resources or training that could trigger higher performance
  • Progress events: for example, moving forward on a project or accomplishing something.

On what the researchers called “best days” – when workers went home happy – here’s the distribution of reported diary comments in each category: 25% nourishing events, 43% catalytic events, 76% progress events.

The power of progress
These are startling results. They say that what makes workers happiest is not getting a new computer or a better office. And it’s not hearing they’re doing a “great job.” Those things are not unimportant, but they’re not nearly as powerful as the feeling that the person has achieved progress toward a goal.

For managers, the lesson is clear: Notice when your employees have made progress and celebrate it with them. (A celebration could be just a pat on the back — the point is to recognize and accentuate the person’s feeling of progress.) You’ll be building employees’ happiness and their willingness to invest themselves deeply in their work.

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