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What do workers really want anyway?
by Wally Bock

If you think that giving workers what they want means giving them extra high wages, lots of free time, and no pressure, think again. Giving that to the people who work for you probably won't have an ounce of effect on productivity.

But there are things that workers want that you can deliver and that will make a difference. Here are some of them.

Workers want to be treated fairly. They want fair compensation, not necessarily the highest salaries around, but fair relative to other people they know who do similar work.

Workers also want to be treated fairly compared to how they perform. In a fair workplace, the consequences match the performance. Good performers do better. Poor performers get reprimanded and get better or leave.

Workers also want a fair shot at doing a good job. Make sure your people have the training and the resources to do what you want before you hold them accountable for results.

Workers want to know what's expected. This is only logical. You can't expect people to do what you want if they don't know what you want. So lay out your expectations and check rigorously for understanding.

Workers also want to know about company values and how they're supposed to act. Make sure everyone is singing from the same hymnbook. Tell the values story over and over.

Workers want to know how they're doing. So tell them. Check on performance frequently.

Then give usable feedback. Telling a worker that he or she should "do better" won't help much. Be specific about what needs to change and when in order for performance to be acceptable.

Workers want to enjoy the workplace. This doesn't mean parties all the time. It doesn't mean shiny happy people holding hands. Workers want to feel safe in the workplace, free of harassment and unfair discipline.

Workers also want to work with people who pull their own weight. That's why bad apples, slackers and nay-sayers spoil the barrel. Give your bad apples the opportunity to reform. Fire the ones that don't.

Workers want a rewarding job. For most adults that means they want reasonable challenges on the job. They want respect from their boss and their co-workers. And they want to work in a place where they can learn and grow.

Workers want to do something important. If you're the boss, part of your job is to help your subordinates understand how their contribution matters. Tell them how it matters to the team. Tell them how it matters to the company.

Workers want the maximum control possible over work life. Give qualified workers control over basic work decisions as much as possible. If you have doubts about whether they're qualified, try giving them control to see how it works.

Workers want to grow and improve. Help them do that. Part of your job as a boss should be to help everyone who works for you do better.

There's really magic about all of this. Part of it is simple human nature. Part is common sense. But if you can give your workers what they want, the rewards can be great for all of you.

Wally Bock may be contacted at

Wally Bock is an author, speaker and consultant who helps businesses improve morale and productivity. His latest book is Performance Talk: The One-on-One Part of Leadership.



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