Do You Know What Your Employees Care About?

By Patrick Clark | Small Business

Do You Know What Your Employees Care About? image Empoyees Care About 2 600x312Do You Know What Your Employees Care About?

You probably don’t know what is most important to your employees.

Industrial psychologists and management experts have been trying to figure out employee motivation and happiness for decades. In a widely cited academic paper, Kenneth Kovach, provides some insight and analysis of the topic. Yes, the paper itself is almost 30 years old. But we should not discount the age of the his work (1987) or the time period of the study it covers (1941-1986) because the underlying premise, and takeaways, remain as valid today as they did decades ago.

Summary: a group of industrial workers were asked to rank ten job reward factors in terms of personal preference from most important to least important. Then, in 1981, another group of workers was asked to rank the same factors. And again, a group was asked in 1986. In those same studies, Management within those companies was asked to rank the same factors in terms of what they believed their employees most valued.

How each group answered tells an interesting story and offers a powerful solution for any company to better itself.

What Management Thinks Employees Want and What Employees Actually Want Over Four Decades

According to employees in 1986, the following ranked list is what they most valued in their job:

  1. Interesting work
  2. Full appreciation of work done
  3. Feeling of being in on things
  4. Job security
  5. Good wages
  6. Promotion and job growth in organization
  7. Good working conditions
  8. Personal loyalty to employees
  9. Tactful discipline
  10. Sympathetic help with personal problems

As you might expect, over time, as the world and economies changed, so too did the rankings. The above list is not the same as it was in 1941. Nor is it the same as it was in 1981. Simply put, over time, what mattered most to employees also changed.

During the same time intervals, Management and Supervisors were also asked to rank the same ten job rewards as they believed their employees would rank them.  You can probably guess where this is going.  Management had a much different list (per the 1986 results). In order of importance, Management believed employees cared most about:

  1. Good Wages
  2. Job Security
  3. Promotion and growth in the organization
  4. Good Working Conditions
  5. Interesting Work
  6. Personal loyalty to workers
  7. Tactful Discipline
  8. Full Appreciation for work done
  9. Sympathetic help with personal problems
  10. Feeling of being in on things

Obviously, the two sets of rankings do not align. Managers were not aware of what their employees actually valued. And if that doesn’t surprise you, maybe this will – the Management rankings remained almost identical in each survey from 1946 through 1986. Forty years and no change?  Management’s ability to stay out of tune remained as constant as their mis-aligned rankings.

As Kovach wisely questions in the paper, “why do managers continually place wages at the top of their hierarchy and the other motivators….at the bottom?”


You could argue that the above analysis has some flaws. Different industries might have different preferences. Females may rank the variables one way, males another. Your age might impact your answers. Kovach addresses some of these possibilities and others have attempted to validate, recreate, and examine similar studies.

Additionally, the last year of data cited above was from 1986. Unless you are having a debate about the best Boston Celtics teams or where Top Gun ranks in Tom Cruise’s career, 1986 doesn’t scream “relevant year”, especially for a 2014 blog post.

But ignore the year. There is a constant theme present, regardless of when the surveys were given: how Employees rank job rewards is not aligned with how Management believes employees value job rewards.

That is an issue that can be fixed.

The Framework: Ask. Adjust. Align. Recruit.

One beneficial exercise for companies to undertake is to first figure out what do your current employees care about? How would they rank job rewards? What matters to them?

By asking your employees directly, you can benefit by:

  • Collecting direct, unbiased feedback
  • Avoiding the misalignment that has been present between employees and management since… forever

Once you have the list of what employees care about, you can then ask your employees how your company stacks up relative to what they seek in a job.  If employees rank Good Wages near the top: Are your wages competitive, below market or above market? If work-life balance or flexible schedules are benefits your employees seek: Do you support that?  If not, can you?

Based on the feedback you receive, you can adjust as needed. Perhaps you won’t have the budget to change everything overnight but many of these variables are process (not budget) driven.

You can have a better communication flow from Management to employees with little expense. Perhaps implementing some work from home policies could both make your employees more money and save your company some money at the same time. Acknowledging a job well done is always free.

Measuring your employees’ perceptions and adjusting accordingly to impact employee happiness not only benefits your existing workforce but it can help better position your company when recruiting and hiring.

Retaining, recruiting and hiring the right people for your organization is the long game. If you focus on keeping your existing employees happy today, and aligning your policies and strategies around doing so, it can help you attract the right employees tomorrow. That might be the best ROI-based decision any HR professional can make.

Do You Know What Your Employees Care About? image 13102c44 b042 4951 add0 5dc30779536f 600x150Do You Know What Your Employees Care About?

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Do You Know What Your Employees Care About?

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