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More pointers on building a loyal, productive staff

June 7, 2012

What does it take to create a workplace in which employees work hard, productively and enjoy their jobs? The Gallup Organization has been studying the question for years. Read on to find out what they discovered — and how your company’s practices align with those Gallup has linked to the best performing organizations.

In trying to create a positive workplace environment, employers often focus on purely financial inducements like pay and perks. Why? Probably because it’s easier to adjust them than other practices, according to Gallup research. Unfortunately, “these factors do not really make a difference to the best, most productive employees and workgroups, and they don’t explain job satisfaction,” Gallup reported in its online Management Journal.

In a previous article, we identified the first half of one dozen dimensions of a great workplace. Here we round out the research with the final half dozen dimensions.

Six More Elements of Great Workplaces

1. “My opinion seems to matter.” Employees want to know that they are more than mute machinery in the eyes of the company’s owners. “Nothing is more demoralizing … than being excluded from significant decisions” — especially those affecting one’s job, said Gallup. Not only are such employees less productive, they also can damage customer relations by conveying their sense of powerlessness. Good managers “consult with employees regularly to make sure those close to the action have input into critical decisions” and grasp the reasoning behind the ultimate decisions, according to Gallup. This is particularly critical with decisions that don’t follow an employee’s recommendation.

2. A sense of purpose. Not every company is in on a lofty mission. Yet employees who clearly understand and respect their employer’s mission — and their part in fulfilling it — will be more content and productive. Don’t assume that simply displaying your company’s mission statement will meet this need. “They are often too vague and too broad to allow every employee to connect with them,” Gallup has discovered.  Remember that employees’ own values vary; some place high importance on competition, others service, and still others, technical competence. “Great managers translate the company’s purpose into language that each employee can understand,” Gallup maintains.

3. Perceiving a shared commitment to quality.  Employees who care about doing a good job also need to believe they are part of a team whose members share that commitment. They also “want to be part of an organization that challenges and enables [themselves and their coworkers] to excel,” according to Gallup. It’s important that “quality” as understood within the company means more than the mere absence of mistakes, because such a narrow perspective can motivate employees to cover them up. “In the best workplaces, managers realize that human beings will make mistakes, and can learn from correcting them. In these workplaces, quality is defined as the process of recognizing and solving problems.”

4. Having a “best friend” at work. Building trusting relationships “is a significant emotional compensation for employees in today’s marketplace,” according to the study. Employers benefit when employees have “best friends” at work because the positive resulting employee mindset “may be the true key to effective change, integration and adaptation.” While you can’t create such relationships for employees, “in the best workplaces, employers recognize that people want to forge quality relationships with their coworkers, and that company allegiance can be built from such relationships.” The task at hand is to encourage an environment in which employees are comfortable developing such attachments.

5. Effective performance reviews. Performance reviews often consist of a checklist of performance criteria rated in a snapshot view — an “excellent” here, a “needs improvement” there, and so on. But employers with high-performing employees conduct performance reviews more in an evolutionary context — focusing on how employees are coming along in their development. “The best managers recognize that performance review provides a time to discuss the progress and growth of an employee,” according to Gallup. “Instead of trying to change people by focusing on their weaknesses, great managers… help employees gain self-understanding… about the talents they possess and apply every day at work.”

6. Growth and learning opportunities. The need to learn and grow “is a natural instinct for human beings,” the study showed.  Well, for most of them. Some stop growing, believing they know everything — a misperception that “infects both the workplace culture and coworkers individually.” The result: innovation essential to building a competitive company is suppressed. But the best managers will meet the challenge of building a workplace culture that’s “open to new ideas” and lets employees explore those ideas “without fear of rejection or retribution.” While the process requires an investment, “this investment is imperative to making good ideas useful,” Gallup reported.

You already know that everyone wants to be paid fairly. Monetary rewards may be the easiest way to gauge the contentment of your workforce. But the fact is, a lot of life happens at work. A healthy salary and benefits are important, but if the atmosphere is toxic, it will be felt in your company’s overall well being, in your turnover, and ultimately in your bottom line. If setting the stage for job satisfaction has not been a key value at your company, it may be past time for a culture tune-up.

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