Employee Satisfaction

April 8, 2009

Organizations often have employee satisfaction as a general goal. The specific goal is to make a number that represents employee satisfaction higher than it was the last year. To me, it’s not how you satisfy your employees, but who you satisfy.

Cookie cutter approaches to addressing employee satisfaction make some routine suggestions such as better compensation, time off, more staffing, etc. However, given the emphasis on diversity in the workplace, why would we think there is one magical type of satisfier that will meet everyone’s needs? Take compensation. Even if everyone receives a little more pay, we know that people often judge their benefits relative to other’s. So even greater compensation is not such a “no brainer” after all. If I perform better than someone else, why should they get as much of a raise as I?

The question we should be asking ourselves is who we want to be happy to work in our organization. I believe it should be a specific goal of organizations to make work as uncomfortable an experience for low performers as possible. The objective is to get such low performers to improve (to be happy) or move on (to be happy). If your low performers are relatively happy, they’ll stay. If they stay, your high performers will be unhappy and they’ll look elsewhere.

Exact practices that differentially impact the two groups of employees depends somewhat on the type of industry. High performers in service industries will desire greater flexibility. High performers in manufacturing might respond better to a more structured environment.

But one thing we should be able to agree on is that high performers aren’t scared of being held accountable for their work. They even thrive on it and desire it. For the unsuccessful, accountability is the arch enemy. You want to make your top performers happy? Find what makes your low performers unhappy.

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