Employee Satisfaction? Put Some $$ Where Our Mouths Are

It’s an annual or semi-annual ritual: companies invest in the annual employee satisfaction survey in an attempt to get feedback from their employees on this ever-elusive and mysterious topic.  In addition to asking their own employees, firms have access to a plethora of studies and surveys in which employees and managers across industries and roles are polled to find this year’s keys to recruiting and retaining valued employees. In one such study1, when employees were asked which attribute would greatly increase their job satisfaction, their response of “better pay” far exceeded all other factors.  I would say that this not unexpected response is a bit of a Maslovian reflex.  We all think we need more money to 1) feel financially safer over the long run and 2) be compensated fairly relative to those folks with whom we believe we compete and whose pay levels we seem to be unable to avoid wondering about. Despite this knee-jerk ‘pay me!’ response, when these study administrators looked to see what actually most correlated with current job satisfaction, pay was not even near the top of the list.  The factor that had the highest correlation with job satisfaction was “a chance to have my opinions heard and considered.”  Authors of “The Work of Leaders”, Scullard, Straw et al, cite this study in their text and conclude “not only is this leadership behavior [of exchanging perspectives] more powerful than pay, but it’s something every organization can afford.”

Despite this finding, there can be office inertia that runs counter to this idea.  In HBR’s March 2014 ‘Idea Watch’ column, researchers Tost, Gino, and Larrick found that, “feelings of power prompt leaders to verbally dominate and to resist others’ ideas, and as a result, team performance suffers.”   Their position is supported by the work of Galinsky, Magee, et al, who confirm via their work published in the Association for Psychological Science, that there’s an inverse relationship between having power and perspective taking.  Galinsky’s team concluded, “having power is an impediment to taking the perspective of others.” 

So what’s to be done if we believe the conclusion that employees want to be heard but face a culture of dominance and not listening?

Tost’s team suggests, “companies can counter this [verbal dominance and resistance] effect by reminding managers of subordinates’ importance and encouraging workers to question overbearing bosses.”

Hmmm. They had me at their ‘feelings of power’ point. They lost me on ‘encouraging workers to question overbearing bosses’. Say what?

It seems to me that:

• If the company culture supports overbearing bosses, there will be overbearing bosses and the more “successful” employees will eventually progress through the leadership ranks to become overbearing bosses and reinforce this overbearing culture. 

• If there is a culture of overbearing bosses, workers will not generally feel safe questioning/challenging them and therefore, these employees will not be ‘heard.’

•If employees will not be heard, there will be less productivity, less engagement and innovation and less employee satisfaction.

What employees really want- in addition to a fair and reasonable compensation plan – and they do really, really, really want that - is to do meaningful work and make meaningful contributions, and that specifically includes being heard.

While I have not met any employee who would turn down free gourmet lunches, free snacks, on-site resting pods, meditation rooms, day care and volleyball, these are wonderful ‘nice to haves’, though we don’t really need our managers to spend money on all of that to either satisfy us or engage us.  I also think we can stop spending more than a nominal amount of money on the annual employee satisfaction survey.  These outlays can be better allocated towards training: training our management and leadership teams to listen and model a culture that values taking the perspectives of others.  In other words, putting some money where the employees mouths are.

And if management also wants to give employees a sun-filled, quiet employee lounge with a communal teapot and perhaps some chocolate, that’s okay too.

 Regina Darmoni is a co-founder of Timely Transformations, a partnership dedicated to professional and personal development training for improved team and individual productivity and profitability.  She is a former Fortune 100 tech & business executive who invites you to ‘like’ Timely Transformations on Facebook and/or visit our home page to see if we can be of service to you.  An update to Regina’s book, Real Mentors Tell You This, is being released in the fall of 2014.

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