What Workers Want and How to Supply It

As most of you embark on your first official work day of 2015, and Bruce-Tulgan-New-Photo-June-2014-200x300just in case a New Year’s resolution was to treat your employees even better this year than last, I thought I’d start you off with some suggestions from workplace and demographic expert Bruce Tulgan.

As I noted in this earlier (summertime) blog post about his recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., is pretty authoritative when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

In this more recent post, What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them, Tulgan once again relies on his and Rainmaker’s more than 20 years of research into workplaces and manager-employee relationships to give you these “key elements of every job that employees typically care about,” he says.

As he puts it in the post:

“You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn’t you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you’re not one of those managers, what is your problem?”

He’s not the only one stressing the importance of treating workers with respect and helping them develop — especially as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce. But he’s one of the few with this much research behind what he recommends.

So here’s Tulgan’s list of what employees really care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?
  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?
  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, co-workers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?
  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is “grunt work” (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities or projects?
  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?
  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Tulgan says the key to making these desires work for you has a whole lot to do with how you leverage them, as bargaining chips. He offers these examples:

  • “You don’t want to work on Thursday? I’m glad to know that. Here’s what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight.”

  • “You want your own office? Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here’s what I need from you.”

“When managers are able to [leverage employee desires and business needs like this],” Tulgan says, “they are giving the employee control over [his or] her rewards by spelling out exactly what [he or] she needs to do to earn them.

“In exchange,” he says, “the employee will probably be willing to do a lot [more] — to work longer, harder, smarter, faster or better” — while getting a valuable and immediate reward in return.

Sure, you can say all this is intuitive, but I would counter with, “then why aren’t more employers doing it?”