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How can organisations improve employee engagement, customer satisfaction and business performance?

Here’s a question: What is the most important thing you want from the organisation for which you work?

For over 30 years, we’ve been putting this question to workers around the world, in an attempt to better understand the factors that contribute to the engagement, commitment, retention and overall satisfaction of employees. In 90% of cases, the answer is one of seven things. In other words, there are seven elements that employees really want from their managers and their organisations. To borrow from the ‘queen of soul’ Aretha Franklin, these seven elements can be summed up using the acronym R.E.S.P.E.C.T. This stands for:

  • Recognition - Employees want ‘a pat on the back’ and they want their views to count. Essentially, each individual wants to be recognised and appreciated as a valued team member - particularly by the person who should be most familiar with their work: their line manager. Our research shows that employees who are satisfied with their level of recognition are four times more likely to rate their boss as an outstanding leader.
  • Exciting work - Employees want a job that’s challenging, interesting and fun. They want a sense of accomplishment and they want to feel the time they’ve spent at work has been worthwhile. According to our research, employees are significantly more likely to feel excited about their work if they are learning something new, or if they’re involved in a pioneering project or if they are empowered to operate with autonomy.
  • Security of employment - Employees want job security. They want to feel confident about their organisation’s future and they want stability and steady work so they can meet their financial obligations. Our research shows that an employee’s sense of job security is related to whether or not they trust the leaders in the organisation. To engender trust, leaders need to show consideration for the morale, welfare and well-being of their team. Leadership behaviour is extremely important because there is a direct link between the perceptions that employees have of their leaders and the performance of the organisation.
  • Pay - Employees want to be compensated fairly for the work they do and the contribution they make (through base pay, bonuses and benefits). The important word here is ‘fair’. We all want to feel that we are being treated fairly and that our performance is evaluated fairly.
  • Education and career growth - Employees want to be given opportunities to develop their skills and to advance their career.
  • Conditions - Employees want a well-equipped environment that is comfortable, healthy and safe. For most people, the social working conditions are even more important than the physical conditions.
  • Truth - Finally, employees want to be told the truth. They want to work for honest and transparent managers who act with integrity and who say what they mean and mean what they say. We’ve found that these seven elements are surprisingly consistent across different countries, different industries and different job roles.

In a nutshell, this is what workers want. So what? Here’s another question: What impact would it have if an organisation gave its employees exactly what they wanted? In simple terms, our research shows that managers and organisations who give their employees what they want - in other words, those who deliver R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - outperform those that don’t. Let’s quantify that statement.

Our study found that organisations that deliver R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - Recognition; Exciting work; Security; Pay; Education; Conditions and Truth - have an employee engagement level that is 117% higher. So, if you want to improve employee engagement in your organisation - or if you’re looking to measure engagement through an employee survey - these are the seven elements on which to concentrate.

What’s more, our study shows that the benefits go way beyond engagement. Because engaged employees care more, perform better and stay longer, those organisations that deliver R.E.S.P.E.C.T. also benefit from 64% higher operational performance and significantly greater customer satisfaction. This translates to the bottom line. Consider, for example, the economic measure of return-on-assets.

On this important metric, organisations in which employees feel they get what they want outperform those organisations that don’t deliver R.E.S.P.E.C.T. by up to ten times. Suffice to say: the impact of fulfilling workers’ most important wants is significant - on employee engagement, customer satisfaction and even the bottom line. Our 30 years of global research boils down to one simple formula for organisational success: Give employees what they want.

Jack Wiley is executive director of the Kenexa High Performance Institute and co-author of ‘RESPECT: Delivering results by giving employees what they really want’.