If you’re thinking of making a career move, don’t let your desire to find greener pastures cloud your ability assess a potential job’s organizational culture. From Netflix’s unlimited paid family program for new parents (on top of unmonitored holidays) to the exposé and rebuttal of hazing-like executive inductions at Amazon, the media spotlight on workplace culture has intensified in recent months.
Amazon and Netflix may be attracting the headlines, but they are only two amid thousands of companies facing the same dilemma: how to winkle out the greatest potential out of their employees. Many of today’s professionals have very different aspirations from their predecessors and are entering the workforce at a time when growth has a markedly different texture from all previous eras.
This is why it is critical for leaders at all levels to pay close attention to employee satisfaction. A recent Jack Welch Management Institute survey found that 43% of American professionals have thought about quitting their jobs in the past year as a result of stifling frustrations at work. While there are often huge differences in frustrations between companies, the things that employees want are strikingly similar.
Given the many benefits of a happy workforce—not least, the positive correlation between employee satisfaction and stock performance—here are six ways that managers can get the most out of their people and retain the ones they value most.
1. Turn Feedback into Feedforward
You don’t have to count down to your staff’s performance review as if it were the latest movie. A generation that has practically grown up addicted to constant affirmation via social media is hardly likely to stay motivated (or indeed on message) solely by annual reviews. Indeed, many big firms, including Accenture and Adobe have realized that informal and regular feedback trumps the blockbusting annual performance review when it comes to getting the best out of people. Two-way exchanges between a manager and employee could be held quarterly and augmented by the real-time feedback that today’s employees also demand.
2. Let Your People Become Their Own People
The success of a business depends on every manager’s ability to encourage employees to optimize their true potential, instead of demanding them to fit so rigidly to an HR-sanctioned version of how the company wants them to be. The faster staff find opportunities to develop, the more engaged they’ll be, and the more likely they’ll stick around to drive real change. Facebook, HubSpot, and even Twitter—whose management structure has been fluid from the start—are all examples of companies that have given key talent room to express themselves, and all have been rewarded with loyalty and innovation.
3. Recognize That The Workforce Is Changing
A good leader will recognize what actually motivates their staff. Many younger employees, having grown up in both turbulent financial and technological times, put a premium on individuality and are aware that they need to constantly master new skills to stay relevant. Also, many will be true digital natives since they only know the world with social media and 24-hour connectivity. Growing up with all the transparency that technology enables, today’s workers hold their bosses more accountable for actively supporting advanced training. On a related note, managers should not be intimidated by technology and should try to elevate their regard for technological advances throughout the organization.
4. Make Employees Feel Like They Belong
Employees regularly cite company culture as a reason for staying within an organization. Often they want both the stardust of big corporations and the familiarity of working for a family firm. Many companies attempt to tick both boxes by creating a social community in the workplace. Organizations as varied as Starbucks and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have employee lounges throughout their corporate offices. Tech firms famously employ a collegiate attitude to work and play. Interestingly, the company that scored the highest in a recent Glassdoor survey—home rental service Airbnb—recently installed a head of diversity and belonging, whose job is not just to foster an inclusive work culture but to ensure all staff feels like they belong there. The company also has a “global head of employee experience,” whose remit spans every aspect of how Airbnb relates to its employees. This includes recruitment and development, the physical work environment, many volunteer opportunities, and daily meal menus.
5. Invest In Development
Many firms operate personal development schemes not just to share know-how and company culture, but to bring in fresh ideas. Under Bain & Co’s “externship” program, for instance, consultants can spend six months working at another firm of their choice. For employees, this is a low-risk way to gain experience in another role that interests them; for companies, it is a way of keeping their best people challenged and reaping the benefits of the new things they learn. This type of specialized skills training is only one way to motivate and develop key talent. Others include encouraging employees to invite outside experts to their executive breakfast clubs or ensuring key staff members attend industry conferences. Some companies give employees a birthday bonus for them to spend on any personal development course of their choice—creating a loop in which they are simultaneously realizing their potential as an employee and as a person.
6. Promote The Best Flexibility
This is a tricky one. Free cookies and car sharing may make the office more fun; however, the downside is that employees may never stop working. The savvy leader will focus on results and performance, not punching a clock. Indeed, several recent studies, including one by Boston Consulting Group, found that forcing employees to take extended periods of time off actually productivity. The practice of encouraging “15% time”—giving employees 15% downtime to pursue their own projects – introduced by 3M back in 1948, has been replicated at today’s beacons of innovation, such as Google and its “ 20% time” initiative. Employees at the search giant are encouraged to spend one day a week working on side projects of their choosing.