In today’s work environment, with the unemployment rate so low, excellent workers are in demand and hard to find. It’s tough enough for you to fill positions and train workers to a high level of productivity, without worrying whether someone else may be fishing in your employee pool.
You know it’s going on. You may, in fact, be tossing an occasional lure into another office’s pool, just to see who you can catch. You may be growing tired of hearing that whirrrrrrr… plunk! of a competitor’s line, but the activity has been going on forever and it’s not going to stop any time soon.
The secret doesn’t rest with trying to stop your competitors. Rather, you need to work with your employees to assure they ignore those artificial lures and stay where they are.
You may be asking yourself, “Why do employees leave?” or, “Why do employees stay?”
The answer to both questions can be found in the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow, who in the late 1960s put forth a concept called “The Hierarchy of Needs.” By understanding what motivates people, you’ll learn how to better develop your workers to their maximum potential and, at the same time, help make them resistant to being pulled away by a competitor.
The Hierarchy of Needs is thought of as a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the bottom, and the others built upon the previous layer. Let’s look at those needs in a general sense and then individually, as they relate to your workplace. The five basic needs are: physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter; safety needs such as security and continuity; belongingness needs such as affection and camaraderie; esteem needs such as respect and value; and finally, self-actualization needs such as an on-going purpose in life.
Until employees have enough money to have a place to live and put food on the table, they will think of nothing else. A starving person dreams of food, thinks of food and nothing else. If you are not paying a living wage to your workers, they will think of nothing else besides where to get more. These workers will accept the first offer from a competitor who offers them more money, and they will not think twice about the decision. Satisfy their most basic needs in life even before yours.
Once workers are comfortable that their physiological needs have been met, their focus changes to safety needs, which indicate the likelihood that their physiological needs will continue to be met. In your workplace, there are two areas where these needs may appear. First, is the work environment physically safe? Second, is the company’s future safe? If your company is constantly in turmoil, with stressful working conditions or routine layoffs, the workers will feel unsafe.
Competitors probably will not be able to lure these workers with a little more money, but they might if they can offer better working conditions or a more stable job future. These workers will often leave, but they will feel a twinge of regret when they go.
Does your workplace environment encourage a cooperative, team approach? Do your workers feel as if they have friends on the job, or co-workers out to steal their job? Once the first two levels of needs are met, people need to feel as if they are part of a team, and they seek interaction with others.
Competition between departments or teams can be a positive thing, but if it crosses a line and workers perceive coming in second as one step toward unemployment, you’ve gone too far. A competitor can lure these workers away with a work environment that is more of a “family” environment and less of a “sweat shop,” with a promise that the employee can be “part of a team.”
These workers will often resist initially, and may come to you voicing concerns, perhaps even mentioning they’re being wooed. If you fail to address the concerns, this worker will leave with great reluctance.
Once workers feel that they belong, they seek recognition in order to feel satisfied, self-confident and valuable. This recognition can come from co-workers or from management.
Co-worker feedback happens every day, when the employee becomes “the expert” in a particular area, whom other team members consult when they need answers.
Management can provide positive feedback with awards and commendations, a promotion, or something as simple as a pat on the back. The absolute best place to prove management’s sense of value is with the annual performance review. Genuine and timely feedback is a powerful motivator, especially when the feedback is a constructive solution to a perceived weakness. It tells a worker, “We value you so much, we want to help you be the best you can in all aspects of your job.”
It is difficult to lure away an employee who has reached this level. Employees who do leave may do so because they feel short-changed by a poorly delivered or long-delayed performance review; or they may have been passed over for a promotion they thought they deserved without a word from management as to why.
These workers will not begin making the decision to leave without letting you know they are unhappy, but their actions will be more subtle. They’ll stop doing extra work, feeling as if there’s no reward; or they will become withdrawn waiting for management to come to them. Failure to see and react to these signs will give competitors the opportunity to steal them, but the workers will almost always regret leaving.
Maslow described this need as “doing that which a person was born to do.”
The best way to describe this need is a “calling.” An artist must paint, a poet must write, and a doctor must heal. They have no choice; but in many cases, these people did not know they had talent until someone awakened the skill in them.
Much of the same must happen in the workplace. Employees must be given the chance to explore and develop within their work until they discover their true calling.
For instance, few people who offer staff training seminars start out with that goal in mind. They are usually outstanding workers who discover they have a knack for explaining material in an entertaining and memorable way, and they drift into the training role, where they blossom.
If you can get employees to the point where they become self-actualized, they are almost immune from being lured away from you.
So there it is. The keys to making your staff “lure proof” are the same steps that will make them the best, most productive team they can possibly be. Management needs to be involved in the process on a continual basis, to ensure employees are progressing and growing within their jobs. Every supervisor and manager should know their workers well enough to instantly describe at which level in the Hierarchy of Needs they are, and what steps are being taken to help the employee move to the next level.