Understanding employee needs: their top seven priorities

By Carl Tompkins
May 1, 2008


Carl TompkinsAt the February 2008 National Auto Glass Conference in Tucson, I moderated a group discussion about how and where to find good employees and how to train and retain them. As part of the discussion, I shared the results of a recent study by Professor John Sullivan of the San Francisco University Human Resources Management Program that identifies the top seven current needs of employees. They are as follows:

1. Honest, frequent, two-way communication.
Southwest Airlines boasts the highest employee satisfaction ratings because its employees know as much about the company as Executive Chairman Herb Kelleher. Southwest management constantly updates employees on everything within the organization and solicits input. To make this possible, management made two-way communication its top priority, and put a system in place to ensure it was constant, complete and current. This is in line with one of my most treasured quotes from business consultant Peter Drucker, who defines the job of management as follows: "If you're not serving an outside customer, you had better be serving someone who is!"
For additional information on how to cultivate employee relationships, see "The Power of a Cup of Coffee" on Page 16 of the May/June 2007 AutoGlass.
2. Challenging and exciting work.
Certain activities within many jobs are redundant, and this can be a problem when it comes to employee morale. Make sure your employees' work environment is upbeat and positive. When things are bright and people are laughing, boring work becomes secondary. In addition, give employees a couple of additional tasks or responsibilities. This breaks up their routine, adds a little variety and can help you determine who among your employees has the interest and capability to take on more responsibility.

3. Knowing their efforts make a difference. People want to carry their own weight within their company, and they want to know that management is paying attention.

4. Appreciation, trust and recognition with proper rewards. Formerly No. 1 on the list, this need has become less important as employees' education levels have risen and they place more value on business savvy over self.
However, the people side of running a business will always be vital. I've had the incredible opportunity to study the employee recognition concept over a two-year period with a team of professionals that included a number of Fortune 500 company representatives. Among the companies we studied, the one common thread was the need for a "daily thank you." Make sure you thank every employee, every day.

5. Grow and learn. Don't become complacent. Allocate time and effort to build a roadmap that outlines steps for individual employees' business growth and advancement. Discuss these steps as part of the employee evaluation process and commit to them. Good employees don't want to remain stagnant in their job.

6. A degree of control and empowerment. Again, this need stems from employees' higher education levels. Delegate as much as possible, and as long as you can maintain proper checks and balances, the positives will outweigh the negatives. Most often, those closest to the action call the best shots.

7. Fair compensation and benefits. You've probably been expecting this need to show up somewhere along the way. Isn't it interesting that its No. 7? Fair compensation and benefits are last on the list because they are the easiest for employees to find and the easiest for management to provide. Money is the "commodity" of needs, and it's only a motivator until you get it. As soon as the first increased paycheck is in the bank, the automatic response is: What's next? Benefits are important, but because similar companies within the same industry tend to provide the same type of package, it's not a big differentiator for potential employees.


The author is western states area sales manager and national auto glass special programs manager with Sika Corp. of Madison Heights, Mich. He is also chair of the AGRSS Accreditation Committee. Write him at Tompkins.carl@sika-corp.com.