6 ways to build a culture that doesn’t chase good people away

By Bonnie Low-KramenBonnie Low-Kramen

You’ve probably read some of the many articles written about the perks that help retain good employees — free lunches, on-site gyms, deskside massage therapy and concierge services, to name just a few. But is that really what your employees want the most?

I train and speak with administrative professionals and managers all over the world and no matter what state or country they are in, the feedback is consistent. Staffers are craving and starved for cultures of respect. These are strong words, but intentionally used and very true.

Job seekers may be tempted by a free lunch perk, but leaders need to know that these sophisticated candidates are taking a closer look. They want to make sure that your company has a culture where they can thrive for the long term.

Want happy employees? Demonstrate respect

Here are six things that matter more to job satisfaction than free food, a place to work out, and yes, even compensation. Many of them don’t cost one penny, and they are precisely the things that inspire staff to be loyal and to go above and beyond in the most difficult situations.

  1. Respect. Hands down, the number-one thing employees want is to feel respected and appreciated. Easily said, not so easily done. Here are some very specific ways respect is demonstrated:
  • Managers say “Good morning, Staffer’s First Name” on most if not all days. This acknowledgement is vitally important because otherwise, you run the risk of staffers feeling like a number and merely an invisible chair filler.
  • Names are pronounced and spelled correctly. There is nothing more personal than someone’s name.
  • The words “please” and “thank you” are commonly used. What takes a few extra seconds is the difference between a feeling of partnership and one of dictatorship.
  • Management is transparent and leads “town hall” type meetings to keep the staff updated about the latest news.
  • Fairness about rules and policies. Your staff sees and hears everything, especially news of unfair treatment. If you doubt this, ask them.
  • Staffers need regular feedback about their performance. Ask questions such as, “What can I do to better support you in your work?” It is not a matter of if but when problems and conflicts are going to arise. Regularly scheduled one-on-ones are the surest way to solve problems right away before they escalate.
  • Birthdays and work anniversaries are acknowledged and celebrated in some way which communicates “you matter.”
  1. A voice for employees in their own destiny. Staff has a say in what projects they work on. One of the most powerful questions leaders can ask is, “What do you think?”
  2. Flexibility. On a recent Virgin Airlines flight, I asked the flight attendant about working at Virgin. He shared that it was the flexibility of schedule and routes that motivates him to not seek employment elsewhere — even though Virgin pays less than other airlines.
  3. Belief in the company’s values and mission. I asked the same Virgin flight attendant, “What is the number one reason you are so loyal to Virgin?” He didn’t hesitate. He stood up taller and said, “Pride. I love what our company stands for. This is my home and these people are my family.” Wow. You cannot force anyone to feel like that.
  4. Zero tolerance for workplace bullying. Workplace bullying is an epidemic problem around the world, and tolerating it is the fastest way to chase good people away in droves. It is easier for demoralized staff to quit than to confront a yeller or a manager who leads by intimidation and uses public humiliation as a management strategy. Fear has created a suffering-in-silence mentality, so when a staffer quits, they will rarely say the true reasons why at their exit interview. I have lost count of the staffers who essentially report, “The executives at our company either have no clue what is going on or they look the other way because it is too difficult to take the bully on.” Companies with strong cultures of respect set a clear expectation that destructive and toxic behaviors will not be tolerated, and that swift action will be taken by management if such behaviors emerge. For example, Campbell Soup has all staffers sign and re-commit to a “Code of Ethics” on an annual basis, which is a key component to the company’s “Culture of Respect.” Bullies cannot survive in an authentic culture of respect.
  5. Company culture.Is your company culture advertised on the company’s website, job descriptions, employee manual, advertising, office walls, and all hiring materials? Go on Glassdoor to read anonymous reviews from your own employees to see what they are saying about what it means to work at the company. Leaders who proudly announce their values are critical for employee morale. At the Facebook offices, one sign on the wall encourages staffers with, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Companies with strong cultures of respect that are backed up with consistent and clear action have the highest employee retention and, not surprisingly, are also the most profitable. The bottom line is that prospective employees will explore what your company stands for before they ever submit an application, and it all begins with you, the CEO.

Bonnie Low-Kramen is a workplace leadership expert and international trainer and speaker. She served as Olympia Dukakis’s executive and personal assistant for 25 years. Through Ultimate Assistant, LLC, she is now dedicated to opening the lines of communication between executives and their assistants in every organization. Her purpose is to educate executives on how to leverage this powerful relationship, and empower assistants around the world to find their voice, and communicate with intention, confidence, and honesty. Sign her SpeakUp Pledge at www.speakuppledge.com, and follow her on Twitter @BonnieLowKramen.