Do you know what employees need from your business?
Even if you did before, it’s already changed. Understanding what really drives employee engagement was once the ideal. Today, it’s necessary.
In the shadow of the “great resignation,” the stakes of engagement are higher. A 2021 Gallup survey shows employee engagement rose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this silver lining quickly evaporated. More recent data from Gallup paints a bleaker picture of global employee satisfaction:
- 19% are miserable
- 21% are engaged at work
- 33% are thriving in their well-being
- 44% regularly experience stress at work
- 60% are emotionally detached at work
The dwindling happiness reflected in these figures isn’t far ahead of burnout and attrition.
It begs the question: Is this just the way things are? Is disengagement and dissatisfaction inevitable? Do HR professionals need to stop trying to make employees happy and accept widespread disappointment?
No, absolutely not. Gallup also finds businesses with engaged, happy workers enjoy 23% higher profits than those with a poor employee experience. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment continues to rise. More people are finding work — some for the first time — each day.
We’re back to business as usual, right? Wrong.
Employees are working again, but their motivations aren’t the same. Take yourself, for example: Are your motivations and fears the same as they were in school or when you started your career? Our priorities shift as we grow.
Employee well-being operates the same way. What motivated workforces a decade or even a year ago isn’t guaranteed to do so today. To find out what modern employees really want, Paycom commissioned a survey from Morning Consult in February 2022.
Survey Employees Overview (2,200 employees)
- 22% small (20-99)
- 33% midsize (100-999)
- 45% large (1,000+)
- 30% leadership
- 54% associate
- 15% other
- 65% hourly
- 36% salaried
Years of service:
- 13% <1 year
- 33% 1-5 years
- 54% 5+
The surveyed employees vary in background, industry, age and, notably, happiness. General satisfaction is close between long-term workers (49%) and those who’ve changed jobs in the last year (44%). However, recent job changers are 7% more likely to say they’re “very satisfied” with their current role.
It makes sense: New opportunities conjure excitement. Or at the very least, we enjoy a sense of relief after leaving a painful experience. But this sense isn’t something employers should rely on. Wellness coach and psychologist Elizabeth Scott ties the short-term gains of a recent, major change — like a new career — to “hedonic adaptation.”
Also known as “the hedonic treadmill,” the concept refers to the emotional value we receive from something new inevitably waning as we get used to it. In other words, it’s no surprise a new hire will experience a short burst of satisfaction. That’s the easy part.
But if it’s an individual’s nature to grow tired of their situation, how does a business continue to engage and excite employees?
Break the (proverbial) treadmill, of course. To do so, we’ll first need to build a new (also proverbial) pyramid. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs isn’t a foreign concept in business.
In short, it defines the five-step journey one takes toward self-actualization:
- basic needs
In our personal lives, ascending the first four steps of the hierarchy brings us closer to comfort. When applied to your people, employee engagement grows as their basic and advanced needs are met. But given climbing the first four levels comes at the cost of motivation, it’s natural to think this framework could all be for nothing. Luckily, there’s a fifth.
Self-actualized employees become more than themselves as:
- inspirational colleagues
And they don’t have to be anomalies. With the right foundation, there’s no reason why every employee can’t achieve self-actualization. You just have to give it to them. Use Morning Consult’s data to help raise employee engagement and give your people what they actually want.
Climbing the pyramid and achieving self-actualization isn’t tied to age. And giving employees what they want won’t force you to prioritize one generation over the other. But it is important to account for their differences. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, five generations make up today’s workforce. You still need to ask employees for feedback. The use of regular, open communication is indispensable. But considering the generational makeup of your workforce will help you spot underlying trends.
Silent generation (born 1928-1944)
- value seniority and tenure
- appreciate structure
- champion loyalty
Baby boomers (born 1945-1963)
- tie careers to self-worth
- like democratic workplaces
- enjoy challenges
Generation X (born 1964-1980)
- prioritize work-life balance
- are confident
- see change as opportunity
Millennials (born 1981-2000)
- need collaboration
- respect competent authority
- thrive with change
Generation Z (born 2001-2012)
- seek growth
- enjoy high engagement
- prefer a balanced structure