What Employees Want More Than A Raise in 2012


Well shock me, shock me, shock me. New numbers from the Corporate Executive Board's quarterly study of 20,000 employees over the second half of 2011 took a look at the biggest driver of employee retention—that is, the reasons people choose to stay loyal to their company—and found that it's not about the Benjamins in  the post-recession workforce.

Good news for cash-strapped employers, but that doesn't mean there aren't strategies to put in place to keep workers sticking around in the New Year.

"Even with all of the bad news about the labor market, the reality is that it's starting to get better, and for the highest potential talent it's still an incredibly competitive market," says Brian Kropp, managing director of the CEB's corporate leadership council. "What companies need to be thinking about now when considering these employees, is recovering from a lot of the wounds that they've inflicted upon their workforces over the past few years."  In other words, make it up to them. Before it's too late.

"Employees have weathered years of slower pay increases, furloughs, cuts in compensation, cuts in benefits, increased pressure and additional workloads," Kropp says. Now that they're recognizing the signs of improvement, companies need to address that, either through compensation increases or other key drivers of employee engagement, as identified by the group's study, released last week.

But lucky for cash-strapped companies, they don't have to bust budgets to keep employee engagement up in the New Year. The top drivers for employee retention are:

  1. Job-Interest Alignment
  2. Manager Quality
  3. Coworker Quality
  4. People Management
  5. Respect
  6. Collegial Work Environment

"There are things that get people to stay at a company and there are things that get people to leave and join a different company," says Kropp, whose research shows that while compensation doesn't even factor into the top ten for retention, it does rank number one on the list of reasons people leave for greener, presumably better-paying pastures.

When it comes to keeping employees both engaged and loyal though, Kropp's data shows that happiness can't be bought with just a bigger paycheck. "It's interesting to see what's changed over the last couple of years," he says. Coming out of the economic downturn, it seems priorities have shifted away from the dollars and cents of paychecks and towards more intangible elements of work.

With massive organizational redesigns taking place over the past few years, Kropp says that the likelihood employees are doing the jobs they were originally hired for as lower than ever before, making what he calls "job-interest alignment" a huge issue for corporations hoping to hold on to talent. "Making sure people are doing jobs they're interested in is key," he says, and says it's a quicker fix than many companies think. "Surprisingly you don't have to let employees have complete control over their roles to meet their expectations," he says. All it takes is a little bit of manipulation. "By giving employees small choices and just the littlest bit of control over even a single element on their to-do list, it dramatically the feeling that they're doing the job they want to be doing."

It's interesting to note that a full 50% of the top retention drivers are about people. Specifically, colleagues, coworkers and the corporate environment. Kropp says this, too, is something his company has seen grow increasingly important as a result of the recession. "What we've seen is that the amount of hours that people are working has increased by about 10% over the last three years," he says. The average full time employee is working about 46-47 hours a week, up from about 42 in 2007. "So when I'm at work almost an extra hour each day, I really want to work with better quality people."

"We find that the quality of my peers is just as important as the quality of my manager in terms of getting me engaged and keeping me with the company," he says. But since you can't force employees to get along, short of firing the social misfits in the group, strategies for increasing the "quality" or managers and employees in the workforce are tricky, Kropp says. The smartest companies are increasing attention to group activities, but he says it's not simply about reinvesting in the company party. Community service projects are en vogue, as are peer mentoring opportunities, which have become great tools not just for encouraging a team mindset but for time-pressed managers to delegate authority to their employees.

In summation of the data set, Kropp says that it's not surprising that compensation doesn't top the list. According to him, employees are beginning to place greater emphasis on the value or quality of the work that they do than they ever have before. "It's a real shift," he says. "At a very macro level." People are shifting their viewpoints towards asking themselves whether their job really matters, a trend he thinks will only become more relevant in years to come.  "If I were to roll the clock ahead a year or two, I think we're going to see a workforce that's asking themselves: 'Am I just a person doing a job, or am I a person that's making a difference?'"

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