What do employees want from their boss?

employee motivationIt’s an emotive question. There are thousands of quotes and theories on how to be a good leader but in practical terms what do all those theories and quotes really mean?

If you talk to employees about what they want from their manager then it seems to be the little things that matter. Things like:

  • Honesty and integrity – lies and secrets kill a manager’s credibility
  • Fairness – hold the whole team accountable to the same standards, no favourites
  • Respect – respect employees and earn respect as a manager
  • Responsiveness – listen, understand and respond to their ideas, feedback and concerns
  • Genuineness – some employees spend more time at work than with their family, they don’t want a phoney boss
  • Collaboration – to be asked for their opinion and ideas
  • Trust – to trust their manager and to be trusted


“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
—Peter F. Drucker

We all want to keep our employees happy, if we don’t then our organisations are going to suffer from high levels of staff attrition, poor productivity, poor employee motivation and falling profits. This means that leaders need to focus on the ‘soft’ management skills and make sure that these things are part of their everyday activities.

The softer side of management

Walk the talk. Always lead by example rather than display an attitude of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Not only does this build trust and respect but employees whose manager walks the talk will go the extra mile in order to do a good job for them.

Keep your team engaged. Bored employees aren’t productive employees and they can disrupt their co-workers. Keep your employees engaged by finding out about their career aspirations and then match those aspirations with challenging tasks or projects that give them an opportunity to develop new skills and expertise, and pursue their career goals.

motivation brainstormAppreciate your employees. Take the time to know what your employees are doing on a daily basis and dish out genuine praise when it is due, making sure that their colleagues know about the recognition and why it is being given. Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive and it can make a world of difference.

Conduct a “stay” interview. Most organisations conduct exit interviews, but they should also be conducting “stay” interviews to compliment high performers, find out about their aspirations and get feedback. “Stay” interviews allow you to determine how well you are meeting employees’ needs and give you the ability to implement solutions to problems before they cause your employee to leave.

Share information and keep it real. Managers need to be able to articulate the vision and goals of the organisation. Employees want to know the big picture and how their role fits into that vision and helps achieve those goals, so share information on board meetings and decisions so employees can improve their understanding. It’s also important to keep it real and share both good and bad news.

Delegate. Delegating isn’t just about getting someone else to do the job it’s also about trust. If you’ve recruited people into your team because of the skills and knowledge they bring then trust them to do the job you’ve employed them to do and give them the authority to do it. Try to avoid micro-managing your team.

At the end of the day…

All these soft skills will help you keep your employees happy, but you also need to understand what each individual employee wants and then try to fulfil those needs. Happier satisfied employees will be more loyal to the organisation, perform better and ultimately make your job much easier.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
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