What you pay your employees certainly matters. They aren’t volunteers, after all, and they depend on their paychecks for survival. But when it comes to gauging exactly what they value the most, salary is far from the only contributor.

So, what do employees really value?

That’s a question I asked myself a lot while writing Mean People Suck. The answer to the question is not straightforward as humans are complex beings and what delivers satisfaction to them is complicated. Kristin Wong, in her article about what employees value, takes the time to try to answer this question by examining research from Glassdoor on what makes employees happy and engaged.

Quick Takeaways

  • Salary is not the best predictor of job satisfaction.
  • Pay becomes less of a factor in job happiness as it increases.
  • Employees derive job satisfaction based on many aspects—with culture and values topping the list.
  • Empathy is a necessity for any organization that wants to retain employees.

The Value Spectrum: It’s Not All About the Benjamins


Image: Pixabay

Glassdoor attempted to answer the question of what employees truly value and if these values change as their compensation grows?

The organization used their own data, looking at salary reports and reviews by over 600,000 individuals. The research measured six different factors:

  • Cultures and values
  • Senior leadership
  • Career opportunities
  • Business outlook
  • Work-life balance
  • Compensation and benefits

They used the Shapley Value analysis model, in which each category has the potential to impact employee outlook. The analysis looks at each factor as a probable predictor of employee satisfaction, deciphering which of the six had the biggest impact.

Culture and values topped the list at 22%. This means that more than one out of five employees needs a positive culture and values if they are to be happy at work. This research reinforces my perspective on creating a meaningful culture at work.

While employees want to be paid a fair wage that allows them to live comfortably, as salary increases, it becomes less of a factor in workplace satisfaction.

So, what does a rewarding culture look like in the modern world? And why do a company’s values matter to employees?

It starts with one word—empathy!

Empathy in the workplace is the foundation for a culture that attracts and retains employees. And when you have engaged employees that feel that their work is valued, they’ll stick around and go the extra mile when needed.

Employees, as corroborated by Glassdoor’s research, care very much about company culture. And a toxic company culture can drive away your best and brightest. You may not be able to get them to stay just by padding their paycheck.

Just as any sustainably successful brand needs to have a purpose or “why” beyond making money, most individuals crave this as well. When a workplace lacks any real connections or positivity, the most talented employees won’t remain within the organization for long.

Workplace Cultures that Prize Empathy May Be Hard to Find

Our society is facing an empathy crisis. This empathy deficit is the result of several factors, including the way in which technology has shaped the way we live. Technology has allowed us to be more “connected” than ever, yet the reality is that people find themselves caring less about each other. Technology isn’t the only reason why we feel less connected, but consider how you communicate every day.

While we communicate quickly and easily, real connections and interactions are lost in the world of Snapchat and Instagram. This happens at work as well, as we rely on IM platforms, email, and other channels to communicate at work, rather than the more traditional one-to-one conversation.

Technology, however, doesn’t have to be a roadblock to empathy, provided that your culture values communication, connection, and collaboration. Think of technology as a tool to improve your business—not as a mere conduit for communication.

Empathy has yet to be regarded as a must-have for a successful business, but it’s easy to see how it can make a real difference. Most businesses have evolved to understand the need to be customer-centric rather than product-centric and have targetted a more empathetic approach to customers.

This also works internally. When you have a workplace culture that values care, concern, and compassion, employees will likely respond in positive ways. As you strive to be authentic to your customers, you should also endeavor to infuse this into your internal workplace culture.

Can Cultural Change Occur?

If your company suffers from high employee turnover, you have a problem. Turnover not only disrupts productivity and workflows, but it’s also costly. So, why are people leaving?

If you know that salary wasn’t the leading reason for employees to leave, the reason behind the mass exodus is probably your culture. Your leadership may believe ruling by fear will keep employees in line, and that’s there’s no room for empathy in the workplace.

They are wrong.

It’s hard for anyone to thrive in a negative environment. How can employees remain engaged and committed to a company for which they have no respect? They won’t. They’ll leave, and you’ll keep going through the same cycles until you embrace change.

Cultural change is possible. It’s not easy, and there will be lots of discomfort, but if you make significant changes and welcome empathy into your workplace, you are likely to realize greater retention and, in return, profitability.

Do You Know What Matters to Your Employees?

If you aren’t sure what motivates your employees or how they see your culture, then you’re going to have to ask them. You may not like the answers, but they’ll at least be true, and from this truth comes the ability to take action.

Understanding how they feel, coupled with data you have on company turnover, should deliver insights and help you pivot toward greener pastures. So, what are your thoughts? You can dig deeper into employee satisfaction and empathy by getting your own copy of Mean People Suck. With your purchase, you’ll also receive a bonus visual companion guide. If you’ve hit the turning point and know your culture needs a refresh, we can help. Check out our services or request for me to speak to your team on the power and profitability of empathy.

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