​What Employees Want: Four Insights From Employee Focus Groups

Author(s): Leigh Caiger

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In my five years at McLean & Company I’ve led countless focus groups and talked to hundreds of employees across North America about what makes them engaged at work. I’ve come to learn that no matter the industry, role, or location, their answers are incredibly consistent. Here are some of the most common.

Employees want…

1. To feel connected to senior leaders on a personal level.

They want leaders to be visible. When in the office, they want leaders to walk the hallways, visit field locations, and say hello in the elevators. They want leaders to know their names, recognize their performance, and be honest in their communications.

My advice:

  • Leaders should make visibility a top priority. McLean & Company data shows that many organizations have seen an increase in engagement during the pandemic because senior leaders have been forced to be more visible, even if virtually.
  • Employees often become dissatisfied in growing organizations where senior leaders can no longer maintain as much visibility. These leaders need to find new ways to stay connected to their employees. McLean & Company has resources on how to Equip Senior Leaders to Drive Employee Engagement.

2. To know what is going on in other departments.

Employees want to know what other departments do and how to access their information. They want to know who does what and have opportunities to socialize. And they want their senior leaders to model interdepartmental collaboration.

My advice:

  • Employees always know when department leaders are not getting along. Trust me, I’ve heard many stories. If there are problems between leaders, you’ve got to address these before you can improve collaboration between employees.
  • Information management and knowledge transfer is a huge issue for employees. Make this a priority but beware of labor-intensive solutions (e.g. committees, databases that will need to be kept up to date).
  • Create space for employees to make connections with colleagues in other departments. McLean & Company has resources on how to Catalyze Cross-Functional Collaboration.

3. To develop professionally within the organization.

Employees want a vision of how they can grow their career without leaving the organization. They want to know what opportunities are available, how to navigate those opportunities, and trust that hiring and promotion decisions are being made fairly. A single story of perceived favoritism will linger for years. I hear them often.

My advice:

4. To be involved in decisions that impact them.

At the job level, employees want to be seen as experts in their role and be empowered to make decisions about how to do their work. At the organization level, they want to contribute to strategy development by being given opportunities to ask questions about the strategy and provide their thoughts and feedback to senior leadership.

My advice:

  • Employees still tell me they don’t have regular one-on-ones with their managers. This can be difficult in situations with high workload, shift work, or large employee-to-manager ratios. But nothing can substitute the connection between a manager and employee, so make finding ways to do this a priority.
  • Slow is fast. The amount of energy leadership must expend when they make a decision the employee base doesn’t support is always more than the time it takes to consult the employees upfront. Involve employees in organization-level decisions or initiatives. Employee focus groups are a great example!

Finally, I’ve learned that stories are powerful. They are infused with emotion, told for years, and become part of the culture. So, my last piece of advice is talk to your employees and listen to the stories that are being told in your organization. The insight you gain will be invaluable.

By: Leigh Caiger

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