When we discuss employment we tend to put ourselves in the picture–we immediately get visions of our own career path and our own next move, but what about the people you hire? Hiring the right person can be as lengthy and as labor-intensive as finding a new job for oneself. Retaining that person is even more important and has become increasingly difficult and expensive. If you are the decision maker for recruiting or hiring, it’s important to understand that people are motivated to change jobs for their own reasons. While there are many who work purely out of economic necessity, a large and growing segment of women executives is enjoying its growing options and choices. Consider the transformation in the world of computer tekkies and coders! Due to the explosive demand for their skills, the young people who dominate that area have become skilled negotiators as well…they’ve learned how to pick and choose and command big salaries and consulting fees. This is a growing trend among workers of greater experience in all categories. Consider the well-documented concern that the “Great Resignation,” now seen as a national movement, is hampering economic recovery. From tech giants to the local restaurant, employers are struggling first with how to hire, and then how to retain, a sufficient number of qualified employees.
Wages, salary, benefits matter—but they are no longer enough. Every woman, regardless of her job title or circumstance, wants to know three things:
- Does my work matter?
- Do I have an opportunity to learn and grow?
- Am I supported by others?
Increasingly, if the answer to these questions is “No,” or even “I don’t know,” employees are poised to move on.
To an employer or hiring manager, this should be of grave concern.
Years ago, after I had dropped out of law school and needed to pay the rent, I took a job as a receptionist at a 9-person real estate firm. I answered phones, directed calls, and typed correspondence. It was a classic “dead-end” job, and they could have hired many, many people to do what I did. One day a new client walked in the front door and told me he had chosen this particular firm because of the way I had interacted with him on the phone. It was a revelation to me– that I had made a difference – and gave me renewed motivation. My work had mattered to someone.
Some years later, at the beginning of my corporate career, I hired a dozen temporary workers for a mundane task: checking paper bills against paper invoices. They worked in a windowless room. It was tedious, boring work. It was also very important work – ultimately all that checking saved the organization millions of dollars.
Early on, I gathered this group of temp workers together. I explained why we needed them to do this work, what we did with their work, and what the organization gained from their work. I thanked them for doing this work, acknowledged its tiresome nature , and encouraged them to make their highest- quality effort because the outcome mattered. Every week I would gather them again and tell them the results of their work– the errors they had collectively found and how much money we had saved. We celebrated when someone found a mistake and we responded quickly when workers had questions or needed help.
We all need to know that the work we do makes a difference. If we stopped doing it tomorrow, would anyone notice? If we, did it poorly, would anyone care? If we left and someone else was hired to do the same work, would we be missed?
At another level, we each want to know that our efforts have meaning. Does my work contribute to something else? Is the organization better off because of my contribution? Is anyone else relying on me?
Perhaps because these questions are so fundamental, organizations of all kinds routinely ignore them. We either assume people already know the answers or that the answers don’t matter. Both are mistakes with real consequence. Failing to answer simple questions can have profound impact. It’s not just that people leave out of frustration. Even if they stay, they don’t produce their best. Good work takes motivation and motivation comes from a sense of purpose and value.
Wherever a leader is – on a factory floor, in a restaurant’s kitchen, in a sea of cubicles, in the board room or looking at a screen full of Zoom windows – her most important role is to explain why an employee’s work must be done and how it connects to the rest of the organization. Whatever our job or circumstance, we all want to be acknowledged and appreciated for the work we do. To keep doing that work, to do our best work, we need to know our work matters.