Mind the gap: What employees want and what employers prioritise

engaged employees

Jonathan Richards, CEO at breatheHR, explores how team leaders can ensure their employees remain engaged, motivated and loyal.

“Mind the gap between the train and the platform edge.” A warning many of us are familiar with. This reminder prevents people from potential hazards. Handy, eh? If only we had some of those in the business world – it would certainly prevent a lot of mistakes. Unfortunately, we don’t. But there is another gap entrepreneurs should keep an eye out for: the disconnect between what employees desire and what employers prioritise.

According to research we conducted with Opinium earlier this year, small business owners rank employee experience fourth in terms of priorities. Although staff experience and appraisals may not seem as big a priority as cash flow and a solid new business pipeline, think again. Employees are after all, only human. And if a worker feels their employer isn’t investing in them, why would they bother investing time back?

So, what do employees want?

A question many business owners might wonder. But if you take a moment to Google the question, many of the results point to one area: feedback. Employees want feedback, they want clear career progression, to develop goals and, most importantly, purpose. Employees want a dynamic process that allows for ongoing and continuous development, but what they’re actually getting falls well short of their expectations.

Talent – attracting and retaining it – has always been a key issue for businesses. People are the heart and soul of a company; they make it what it is. Therefore, having the right people in the right roles isn’t just ideal; it’s a competitive advantage. So, whether you’re a micro-business or a multinational, treat your people right.

Why investing in personal development matters

Before I started breatheHR, I took a big pay cut to move out of the city. I was a trader and things were going well. But deep down I hated it and made the decision to retrain as an accountant. I still couldn’t tell you why accountancy, but it felt right and it has done ever since. The company I joined agreed to sponsor my training and my boss took me under his wing. The feedback and insight he gave me was invaluable, as were the opportunities to which he exposed me – they were way above my pay grade and enabled me to make myself valuable to the business.

This experience taught me so much about the culture and values I wanted to become the ‘norm’ when I set up my own business. I wanted to provide everyone with the same opportunities that job gave me. And when I analysed why I loved that job so much, I found it came down to the fact that value was placed on ensuring I had the input and feedback required in order to progress in my career. It wasn’t a one-sided endeavour either. My line manager and I met regularly, feedback was constructive and, as a result, I was motivated because I felt I was always moving forward, and being pushed to do so.

Feedback and appraisals must to be seen as a valuable undertaking. Overwhelmingly, our study found employees aren’t being given opportunities for growth, instead, business owners focus on customer acquisition and retention, which is understandable when the majority of companies don’t make their fifth birthday. But it’s important to remember who makes these things happen: people.

The crux of the issue is that when it comes to feedback and appraisals, employers and employees are approaching the process from totally different vantage points. Employers are pleased to have a yearly process in place for feedback. They don’t realise that this approach is no longer sufficient, and that employees want a more agile and dynamic approach to feedback.

It’s especially important to get the appraisal and personal development process right at the start of a business and to ingrain personal development into its culture. Aside from the desire to do right by your employees, motivation drives better performance.

How to fix a failing appraisal and feedback system

The good news is that a fragmented appraisal and feedback process is relatively simple to fix. The first step for you as an employer is to get under the skin of your staff and understand what they need to improve, and what they can take away from an appraisal that will kick-start their motivation.

It also needs to shift from traditional annual appraisals to regular meetings and move away from a one-size-fits-all approach. Just because you’ve always done something one way, doesn’t mean it’s right.

Although we don’t possess the power to read minds and find out what our employees truly want, there are many useful tools out there to help streamline the necessary admin and free up time to allow you to have those much-needed face-to-face conversations.

You might not have a loud conductor warning you to mind the gap, but hopefully this article will make you pay more attention to those around you and invest in them. If you’re not prepared to put the time and effort into your employee’s personal development, why would they be bothered to help grow your business? It takes two to tango. So, turn on the music and grab a partner.