What Employees Really Want

Adam White is CEO of Adam White Speaks, entrepreneur and author of the bestselling book, “A Leader Others Will Follow: The Power of Influence.

According to a gallup poll that discussed the State of the American Workplace, 51% is the number of employees who are actively looking for a new job and watching postings. That is more than half of the American Workforce. 1 in 3 employees are disenaged at work. 16% of the American Workforce is “actively disengaged.” Actively disengaged means that employees are miserable at work and they destroy what engaged employees are trying to build.

The cost of employee disengagment for organizational employees and government employees alike? A whopping $483 billion in lost productivity every single year.

The staggering figures of employee disengagement indicate that the American Leadership Philosophy doesn’t work anymore.

If you want to see different results in employee engagement, then we as leaders, as government employers and as organizations need to “DO” something different.

There are very specific reasons why employees are “disengaged” or “actively disengaged.” We can discuss those in subsequent blog articles. But in this article I want to address this issue of employee “disengagement” by answering a simple question.

What do employees really want?…


Would you remain in a relationship with a person that you don’t trust? If you have ever been in a distrustful relationship then you know what it feels like stay up at night worrying about them, or not knowing what to expect from day to day. It’s stressful, causes anxiety and makes your life absolutely miserable.

Well the “relationship” between a leader/employer and an employee is no different.

Employees want to know that their leader has their best interest at heart. Did you know that one of the number one Leadership Characteristics is Trust? That’s right, the employee wants to feel a sense of trust with their employer or they simply will not follow them. One of the quickest ways to keep employees disengaged is to simply keep secrets at work or have managers and leaders that don’t share information, vision, and direction with employees, and I promise you they will become disinterested and disengaged at work.

Employees simply won’t care about your company vision, or you as a leader until they can feel and know how much you care about them. When they sense that they can trust your organization and you as a leader, then they will put their trust on the line, open their heart and their mind and give their absolute best to their work.

Find out by taking a poll or asking your employees if they trust you as a leader and if they trust the organization as a whole. When they respond, pay attention to every comment and within the responses you will discover many solutions to your employee disengagement problems.

One of the best ways to improve trust within your organization is simply:

Deliver on Your Promises.

Broken promises breed discontent. Employees become resentful, bitter and distrustful when leaders and organizations make promises they simply don’t keep.

If you say it, then do it. Keep your word. Build trust with employees.

Sense of Significance

Employees want their work to have meaning and purpose. Contrary to popular opinion, employees don’t just want to come to work and do nothing. That mindset no longer exists in this present American Workforce, and especially among millenials.

Employees want to feel that their work is significant. This is true because as humans, one of the six human needs is the need for significance. Every person, not just employees, wants to feel important, special, wanted, needed, and valuable. Even you as a leader may find a sense of signficance in leading a department, a company, a county, or a country.

Employees are no different and when you deprive them of significance through meaningless or repetitive tasks, they will become disengaged. Now I know you might be saying, but Adam some work roles are in fact repetitive. The solution is to help the employee understand how important their work is to the overall goal, mission, and vision of the organization.

An employee that performs a seemingly meaningless job, can do it to the best of their ability when they feel valued and important by their superiors.

If you want to really improve employee engagement and give employees what they really want, one of the fastest ways is to start to value your employees and give them a sense of significance through their work.

If you want to find out what employees really want, I’ve just given you a top secret tip that’s worth a million dollars. Simply appreciate your employees and make them feel valuable and your employee engagement will skyrocket!


Growth & Development

This is one area employees will never get enough of. What employees really want is the opportunity to continue to grow and develop in the workplace. Why? Growth is another human need within all of us. In fact Progress (growth) equals “Happiness.” Just think about it, don’t you feel more happy in life when your relationships are growing, your life is growing, your children are growing, and even when your grass is growing? Pay attention to nature as your guide. Everything in nature is either “growing” or “dying.” There is no third alternative. So it is with human beings, we feel happy when we are making progress in life, when we are growing and developing on a consistent basis. The opposite of growth is death. There is nothing more frustrating to an employee than to feel stuck in the same work, stuck in the same position, stuck and can’t get better or improve. This is a main source of employee disengagement and if you want to fix it, find creative ways to improve and grow your employees. Even if there is no formal training program available to them, just providing mentorship as leader and teaching them something you know can really add value to their life and work.

The online training courses are in endless supply and readily available often for a very small investment. My “Skill of Influence” online training course empowers employees and leaders and helps them to improve their skill of influence. That’s just one example of the many wonderful training programs that can grow employees while at the same time increasing the value of that employee back to the organization.

Where ever you find an organzation that has a high percentage of employee engagement, you will also find the presence of great training and development within that organization as well. The absence of training and development opportunites will also create the absence of engaged employees…guaranteed.

My own personal goal for development is to read a book a week. I am sponge for learning and that level of commitment to growth and personal development allows me to speak to audiences across the country adding significant value to the lives of thousands of people.

Grow and develop your employees and you will see a return on your training investment reflected through employees who are very engaged in their work.

Sense of Ownership

Similar to the sense of significance for employees is also giving them a sense of ownership. The difference here is this eliminates the need for “micro-management.” Did you know that employees don’t quit companies, they quit managers?

One of the biggest reasons employees are disengaged is because they are being managed by disengaged managers. Disengaged managers will always create disengaged employees.

Consider a Father who is not engaged in the life of a child because he is too busy with work, career, business, or playing golf. The child then becomes disengaged in school, can withdraw from friends and social activities at school, and wants to be isolated from even family members. All because the father has demonstrated disengagement to the child and that behavior is reflected through the child. Sad but true.

We can understand that, but why not when it comes to employees? Managers have to shift their mindset. Managers have to stop seeing themselves as “managers” and start seeing themselves, as “Coaches” or “Fathers” in the workplace. A great manager knows how to properly coach and train an employee, then give them the ownership and responsibility of work without micro-managing them.

When employees have a sense of ownership at work, they will give their best effort and take full responsibility for the outcome. Most employees want to do well and if given the ownership of a task, responsibility, project, etc. they will outperform even the managers expectations. Much the same way a son or daughter will excel in school to win the approval and apprecation of their father or mother.

On the other hand if a manager micro-manages an employee and not give them a sense of ownership, they might just quit. Worse they employee disengagement, is high-turnover from employees that get enough of micro-managers and decide to find work else where. Remember the statistic I gave at the beginning, 51% of employees are actively looking for another job. This very well may be the main reason: Lack of ownership at work due to micro-managers.

If you want to not only improve employee engagement, but also improve employee retention, retrain your managers to give employees a sense of ownership.

Leadership is not always found in the C-Suite. Often employess right under our nose as leaders are filled with potential and capacity to become great leaders. They just need to be given the opportunity to prove it. That oppoturnity for them often comes through giving them a sense of ownership at work and the results of their efforts just might amaze you.


I know you may have heard this a million times before. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know is what you might be saying to me here. But why is it that as I travel across the country speaking to audiences, training employees, and developing leaders, that one of the themes I keep hearing is employees feel unappreciated at work. As I write this I will be presenting an all day training program to an organization that is stuggling with employee engagement. When they sent me the surveys from employees, I was again overwhelmed by how many comments repeated the same words over and over. “We want to feel appreciated here”, “Leaders at the top don’t even speak to us”, “We need better communciation from our management.” This list was endless.

What always fasinates me is that it takes less than 3 seconds to tell someone, “Thank You”, or “I appreciate you”, or “your opinion matters”, or “we value YOU in this organization.” But yet leaders and organizations across the country fail at helping their employees feel more valued and appreciated.

Did you know that a poll was taken by employees and they were asked which they valued more, money or appreciation? Can you guess what they answered? You might be suprized. Appreication was more highly valued than money. Just WOW!

As an audience exercise when speaking I often walk through the room and I shake the hand of many employees and say two words to them, “Thank You.” You would be amazed to see many employees faces light up when I shake their hand and tell them thank you. The crazy part is that I am not even their employer, supervisor, or leader, yet the response is overwhelming way when I meet their need for appreciation. #powerfulleadershiplesson.

If you want to find out what employees really want, I’ve just given you a top secret tip that’s worth a million dollars. Simply appreciate your employees and make them feel valuable and your employee engagement will skyrocket!

If you want to improve employee engagement within your organization, train and grow your employees, develop your managers, or inspire your leadership visit me at adamwhitespeaks.com. I can help!

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