There has been a long-held belief in the business world that collecting a decent paycheck is motivation enough for employees to work hard. However, research into employee engagement has proven otherwise. One study found that pay ranks no higher than fifth on the list of most important reasons why people excel in their jobs. What motivates employees most? How they are made to feel by the organizations they work for and the bosses who manage them.

The suggestion that the path to engaging and retaining workers runs through their hearts, not their heads, contradicts the age-old premise of keeping emotions out of the workplace. Successful business leaders have long been admired for their ability to insulate themselves from their feelings when it comes to decision-making. Treating people with greater care is often considered a soft approach to management that can undermine productivity and profitability. However, a number of recent studies have proven that employees want to work for companies that appreciate them, and the managers who get the best results from their teams are those who give the most.

The Cost of Declining Job Satisfaction

According to a Conference Board research report, more than half of all U.S. employees are unhappy in their jobs. Recent studies by Gallup reveal that 71 percent of American workers are either not engaged in their jobs or have become actively disengaged. In a poll conducted by Monster, 72 percent of respondents said they do not feel like their manager or supervisor cares about their accomplishments or their job goals.

Statistics like these are spurring companies to focus more on employee engagement and those that do see appreciable improvement. According to Gallup’s research, levels of engagement change dramatically, not with macroeconomic upswings, but through better management. However, the overall quality of managers is not showing significant improvement. As a result, Gallup estimates that employee disengagement is costing U.S. companies $300 billion in lost productivity every year.

Employees Want Bosses Who Care

In today’s workplace, changing demographics and increased diversity are requiring business owners to take a hard look at their company culture and focus on developing employee relationships that result in lower turnover, higher productivity, and greater employee satisfaction. Study after study shows that employees are generally more satisfied with their jobs when their leaders are trustworthy, sensitive to the needs of others, and genuinely interested in creating a respectful and supportive work environment.

In a survey of U.S. employees published in the book What People Want by Terry Bacon, more than 80 percent of respondents said the top five things they crave most from their bosses are honesty, fairness, trust, respect, and dependability.

Appreciation also ranks high on the list of qualities workers deem most important in a manager. The Dale Carnegie Global Leadership Study, which was based on surveys of more than 3,300 full-time employees in 13 counties including the U.S., found that 87 percent of workers said it is important for bosses to give praise and show sincere appreciation for who they are and what they do. Nearly 80 percent of the employees surveyed said inspiring leaders encourage and help employees improve. In addition, 84 percent want leaders who have the humility to admit their mistakes.

Emotion Drives Engagement

These leadership qualities have a positive effect on employee retention. As the war for talent remains highly competitive, it is critical for business owners to develop positive behaviors that will prevent top workers from leaving for greener pastures. The Dale Carnegie study showed that supportive behavior from a direct supervisor increases employees’ intentions of staying with an employer by 67 percent. If leadership is not supportive, they are four times more likely to look elsewhere.

Businesses that will sustain success are those that are willing to reject outdated attitudes about leadership and embrace the reality that feelings and emotions drive engagement and motivate people to succeed. Letting your employees know they are truly valued, providing them with opportunities to contribute and grow, and genuinely appreciating their hard work is the heart of great management.

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