Discover What Your Employees Really Want

Why is managing people so difficult for many managers? Why is it that they hate that part of their jobs? It’s largely because they have no idea what employees really want from a boss. Read on to find out what it is your employees want and learn how you can give it to them

Some managers get it–most don’t. Discover what employees really want from a boss and then learn how to give it to them.

Are you a natural “people person”?

Only a few managers are.

Most are technical experts promoted for hands-on achievements, not warm-and-fuzzy interactions with others. And while many managers love their job, most hate managing people. The reason: They have no idea what employees really want from a boss.

To give managers an inside track on what matters most to workers, my company, Lore International Institute, surveyed 500 employees from all types of organizations and industries. Our findings offer revealing, must-have information for every manager in today’s talent-driven workplace.

What employees want
Even “loyal” employees are only committed to managers and companies for about two years, according to a recent study from Walker Loyalty Reports. When you understand what people really want from a manager, you boost your chances of keeping them longer. Here’s what our survey findings say:

More than 90 percent (91.5%) want honesty and integrity from their manager.

Nearly 90 percent (89.2%) want their manager to be fair and to hold everyone accountable to the same standards.

More than 85 percent (86.7%) want to trust–and be trusted by–their manager.

Nearly 85 percent (84.7%) want to respect–and be respected by–their manager.

More than 80 percent (81.2%) want to be able to count on their manager.

More than 75 percent (77.4%) want to be a part of their manager’s team and be asked to contribute ideas and solutions.

More than 75 percent (76.2%) want their manager to be a genuine person.

Nearly 75 percent (74.4%) want their manager to appreciate them for who they are and what they do.

More than 70 percent want (73.9%) their manager to listen, understand, and respond.

What employees don’t want
Sure, knowing what employees want is important. Just as important, though, is knowing what people don’t want. Our survey offers some interesting and often surprising findings:

Not even 3 percent (2.9%) want their manager to be a friend or companion.

Not even 15 percent (14.2%) want to have interesting conversations with their manager.

Not even 25 percent (24.4%) want their manager to care for them.

Emotional Support
Barely 25 percent (25.4%) want emotional support from their manager.

Not even 30 percent (28.8%) want a cheerful or happy manager.

Less than 30 percent (29%) want their manager to be fun-loving or good-humored.

Why managers should care
The way you treat employees largely determines whether they stay with you or choose to leave. A Harvard Business Review report notes that most employees would rather work for a “lovable fool” than a “competent jerk.”

My experience as an HR consultant and executive coach confirms that revelation. Recently, I worked with a manager who was an excellent administrator but, according to his direct reports, was a cold, insensitive, and task-driven boss.

In a company employee-satisfaction survey, this manager ranked lowest among his peers in nearly all areas related to employee interactions. Some people respected him, but none liked him as a person. In turn, his department experienced high turnover and repeatedly lost top performers. He knew he had to change his leadership style–his retention woes were hurting his career and costing the company serious money–but he had no idea how to do it.

What is the good news–for this guy and the many others like him? Most anyone can become a people person by learning how to behave like one.

How to give employees what they want

Understanding what people want is essential to being a successful manager, but you must also know how to give it to them–and that takes both will and skill. Here are some nitty-gritty tips for getting started:

Treat people like human beings–not human resources.
Call everyone by name. Celebrate birthdays. Learn a few details about employees’ lives–even if you have to jot them down to remember them. One manager I coached firmly believes that people are happier and more productive when they work to satisfy some of their deepest longings rather than just collect a paycheck. He encouraged one employee who wanted to become a world-class bridge player to establish a lunchtime bridge group. And when another employee confided that she wanted to become active in local politics, he sponsored her in Toastmasters and helped raise money for her successful bid for city councilwoman.

Invite ideas.
Ask people what they think, both one-on-one and in team meetings. Determine the best ideas, act on them, and give credit where credit is due. This can easily be done by designating a notetaker for each meeting and having everyone offer at least one idea for streamlining a process, improving communication, or providing a new product or service.

Give risky assignments.
Trust people with “stretch” projects even when the outcome is uncertain. It’ll give them a chance to shine–or to fall short and grow. I once witnessed a civil-service employee just rearranging things on his desk for a full hour at the end of the day. At exactly 4:45 p.m., he picked up his briefcase and walked out. Later I learned that while his workday ended at 4:45, he always “checked out” much earlier and may have been marking time until his retirement. That kind of situation is a monumental waste of human potential, organizational resources, and money. Make sure your employees have meaningful, purpose-driven work that really challenges them. Insist they find ways to do their jobs better, faster, or cheaper, provide training and development opportunities, and ask regularly for ideas on how to make better use of their talents and skills.

Protect and serve.
The workplace isn’t black and white. Rules are made and broken. Projects start off strong and wind up failing. Show people you’ve got their backs and help them regroup and recover when the going gets tough.

Be accessible.
An open-door policy means nothing if you’re never in. Do your best to really be there for people, even if it means setting aside a regular time when all you do is connect with employees.

Pay attention.
Multi-tasking isn’t cool. Turn off the phone, quit your e-mail, and meet people face-on with no distractions. When you don’t, you send the message you’re preoccupied or indifferent–even if you keep up your end of the conversation.

Keep secrets.
Have respect for what people share with you in confidence. Unless a secret crosses a legal or ethical line, keep it to yourself–even if the information has power. Nothing damages a relationship faster than a manager who betrays an employee’s trust.

Bare your humanity.
Admit your shortcomings. Own up to your mistakes. Laugh at yourself. Reminding people that you, too, are only human shows self-confidence and builds trust.

Give a damn.
Take time to really care about people–no faking allowed. Ask them what’s up when they’re down, and create a safe place to laugh, cry, or blow off steam without fear of judgment.

Terry Bacon is a founding partner and CEO of Lore International Institute, a global HR research and consulting group, and the author of What People Want: A Manager’s Guide to Building Relationships That Work (Davies-Black, 2006, $27.95). A sought-after speaker and coach, he specializes in talent management, leadership development, and executive education.

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