10/31/2014 10:54 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2014

What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them

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?

What are the key elements of every job that employees typically care about? Based on more than twenty years of research conducted by my company RainmakerThinking, Inc., including hundreds of thousands of respondents, this is what employees 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, coworkers, 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?

Most employees have a considerable desire and interest in customizing some or all of these key elements. When you find out what a particular employee really needs or wants from you, it is like finding a needle in a haystack. How do you make those needles work for you as supersonic bargaining chips? Leverage them for everything they are worth to make win-win custom deals whenever you possibly can.

  • "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 do that, they are giving the employee control over her rewards by spelling out exactly what she needs to do to earn them. In exchange, the employee will probably be willing to do a lot -- to work longer, harder, smarter, faster, or better -- and you will provide her with an immediate reward that is uniquely valuable to her.