Managing Employees

4 Things Leaders Aren't Doing But Should to Increase Employee Satisfaction

4 Things Leaders Aren't Doing But Should to Increase Employee Satisfaction
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Over two-thirds of American employees are not engaged in their work. This epidemic of disengagement poses a serious problem to employers, who lose an incredible $450 billion to $550 billion in productivity a year because their employees are not “enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

The good news is that awareness of this crisis has led to positive steps forward. More companies than ever before are granting employees greater flexibility by allowing them to telecommute. A trend of “unlimited vacation” is also on the rise and wellness perks, such as free gym memberships and subsidized massages, are increasingly common.

Related: 4 Ways to Teach Personal Accountability to Your Employees

However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Here are four things employers are not doing -- but should be -- to increase employee satisfaction.

1. Communicate the company vision and how different divisions / employees contribute to that goal.

Today’s worker overwhelmingly needs to feel a sense of purpose in what they do -- especially millennials. A study from Levo League found that 84 percent of millennials rank “purpose” as number one in evaluating whether they are in the right job and want to stay there. Additionally, Harvard Professor Rosabeth Kanter has found through her research that people want to work for companies where they feel that they’re making a meaningful difference in the world.

This drive for purpose exists on two levels. First, employees need to believe in their company’s mission and that what the company does is important. Secondly, employees need to feel that their work directly contributes to that achieving that mission.

By not clearly communicating their mission and core values, employers are essentially leaving money on the table. However “The Greatness Report” recently published by Achievers found that 61 percent of employees do not know their company’s cultural values and 57 percent are not motivated by their company’s mission. Is it possible to feel that you're having an impact if you don't understand what your company is striving towards?

It is much easier to understand your impact when the leadership team clearly communicates the company’s vision. Developing a cohesive mission and effectively communicating it takes time.

However, when all employees understand the company vision, and how their role contributes to it, the benefits are well worth it. Everyone develops an internal compass based on the company values, which helps them understand and prioritize where they should focus their energy, make faster and better decisions and self-identify where they are helping to drive the business forward.

2. Create clear expectations around what success means.

Today’s employee also needs to know where they stand. Millennials thrive, and depend, on feedback. Engaging them in their work requires setting clear expectations around what success means, and this requires regular communication.

However it is not just millennial employees that have these needs. Research has found that annual performance reviews can diminish activity in certain regions of the brain, cause employee stress levels to soar and restrict creativity. Thus, it is no surprise that around 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 12 percent of Fortune 100 companies are getting rid of annual reviews and rankings. Once a year is not enough to outline and reinforce expectations of success.

Employers can increase employee satisfaction by creating an open channel of communication that enables managers to convey expectations and goals and allows employees to get the information and feedback they need to grow.

Related: The Most Damaging Thing an Employer Can Say to an Employee

3. Create space to acknowledge and celebrate the little victories.

One of the greatest flaws in the annual performance review model is that it only focuses on major achievements -- closing a big deal, completing a major project, etc. Those victories tend to be few and far between.

Even in the less-structured startup space, small victories are often not celebrated. Companies have ambitious goals and to-do lists a mile long, which makes it easy to give a quick high-five after completing a project and then getting immediately back to work on the next one.

Big victories are certainly worth celebrating, but acknowledging little victories is also important. For example, if an employee goes out of his or her way to help a new hire learn the ropes, or if someone with a fear of public speaking gives a presentation, those actions deserve to be recognized. Publicly communicating and recognizing small victories does several things -- it reinforces the importance of goal setting, builds positive momentum company-wide and allows coworkers to bond over shared accomplishments.

Celebrating can be as simple as calling out an accomplishment in a weekly all-hands meeting and clapping for the team that accomplished their goal, or it can mean taking the team on an adventure or outing. What is appropriate for a given company depends on your culture -- the important part is building your own rituals around acknowledging and celebrating the large and small victories alike.

4. Develop memorable and meaningful recognition.

Regardless of the size of the victory, recognition has to be memorable and meaningful. Recognition reinforces the fact that an employee’s contribution matters and encourages them to keep working hard. It rewards positive behavior and drives every employee to perform at their best.

However, an occasional “thank you” or generic gift card does not go far enough to make employees feel valued. They take minimal effort to deliver and are in no way personalized, which makes them forgettable and thus a waste of money.

The more effective approach is to reward employees with something they care about, and create moments that an employee will tie back to a specific achievement at their company. For example, if an employee is recognized for their hard work with a skydiving experience or a meal at an amazing restaurant, that memory will stick with them. Every time they remember that experience, they will remember feeling valued and feel inspired to continue performing at that level.

Experiential rewards are particularly important today, in a world where consumers increasingly value experiences over things. A number of academic studies have revealed that people are happier when their money is spent on “living”, rather than “having.” As a result, spending on categories like vacations and eating out is expected to grow by 22 percent over the next five years.

For employers, this means that the most effective form of employee recognition are things like incentive trips and memorable experiences that foster a connection between the employee, the company they work for, and the people that they work with.  

Each of these simple steps can have a dramatic impact on the engagement, well-being and productivity of your employees. The best part? They don’t require shelling out the big bucks for an in-house barista.

Related: 3 Ways to Inspire Your Team's Best Work