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Keeping employees challenged

Why new hires and long-time employees both want more from an employer

By Aaron Green, 02/19/2008

The key to retention is to cultivate a workplace that engages people, respects them and rewards them for their work. And what I hear over and over is that employees - whether they are new to a company or experienced veterans - all want to be challenged by their work. Challenges keep the job interesting and result in new skills or training that can open up new doors in a career as well as other rewards.

To gauge whether your workplace offers employees the challenges they seek, ask yourself these eight questions:

1. Do I give regular performance reviews and feedback?

Performance reviews can be a positive experience and, in fact, they can be very motivational experiences. The important thing to remember about giving performance feedback is to do it regularly. Putting it off, especially if there are negative issues to address, doesn't benefit anyone. This is also the time to help employees envision their future with the company and to set performance and career goals.

2. Am I giving interesting assignments?

Are your employees excited about the work they do everyday? Is there a project or role that excites them? Good managers understand each employee's strengths, know where their interests lie, and help them find ways to grow. Distributing "grunt work" among all levels in an organization also helps to promote a sense of team work and camaraderie through shared experiences. And, obviously, if employees are doing work that they enjoy, they'll feel more invested in their jobs.

3. Am I providing adequate training?

Even long-term employees can benefit from training. How does your company help new employees learn the ropes? Do you have job-specific training sessions? Mentoring? Providing management preparation training for mid-level professionals can help them visualize a future with your company and help you identify future stars and potentially reduce turnover.

4. Do employees see how their job impacts the company and ultimately the customers?

Participating in meaningful work is very motivating. Progressive employers work hard to establish tangible links between daily duties and client satisfaction and many even link financial incentives to customer loyalty achievements.

5. Is your company socially responsible?

What are your company's outreach efforts and corporate philosophies toward giving back to the community? Company cultures that are supportive of employees' involvement in charitable causes win high marks with today's employees.

6. Is the work environment diverse?

A diverse workforce creates an energy that can be lacking in a more homogeneous environment. Everyone benefits from the shared experiences of workers with diverse influences.

7. Do you support career development opportunities outside the office?

Employees enjoy working for a supportive boss and company. Does your company support participation in business associations or networking events? Do you support charitable work even if it infringes on company time? Do employees attend industry or business functions or trade shows? Can employees attend offsite training and/or further their education? Management should ask themselves questions like these to determine how supportive they are of career development.

8. Are my employees adequately compensated?

It's true that money matters. I find that most employers get starting salaries correct. If they didn't they would not be able to hire the new employee in the first place. Where I see mistakes being made is in waiting too long to give raises and/or giving raises that are inadequate. Employers need to pay close attention to pay rates as employees gain experience and responsibilities. The fact that the employer trained the employee and provided the environment for them to get the experience does not change the fact that to retain staff you need to pay them what they are worth in the marketplace based on the skills they possess today, not the skills they had when you hired them.

Employers need to pay particular attention to high performing employees who have acquired skills quickly and are delivering substantial value to the organization. An annual salary review might "fit" for one employee, but a high-flyer might not stick around for a year if you don't increase their compensation to the level they can receive at another organization. Does being a great place to work help? Of course it does. And so does paying people what they are worth.

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