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Updated: March 28, 2024

Want to drive better results? Update your incentives for the era we're in

Provided photos Amy Wood, left, and Mary Axelsen are founders of Human-Centered Leadership.

With employee demands and discontent at an all-time high, most business owners are getting the message that they must go to a whole new level to attract and retain engaged employees. And while better pay and perks is certainly a pivotal part of that package, customary enticements are simply not enough anymore. 

Yes, raises and bonuses are still powerful motivators. But what’s most compelling to employees as they grapple with a reduced sense of community, increased loneliness and greater uncertainty, is your capacity to demonstrate convincingly that you are truly listening to them and genuinely care about them. 

Yet, according to Gallup, more than half of exiting employees say that in the three months before they left, neither their manager nor any other leader spoke with them about their job satisfaction or future with the organization.

Thankfully, it’s easier than you might think to show your employees you get what they’re going through and are there for them. Applying these four simple strategies will help your team feel understood, supported, and united enough to be committed to their work:

Regard self-care and relationships as the foundation of productivity. Prior to the pandemic, socializing, fun, and leisure were considered non-essential rewards for a job well done. But in light of rampant burnout among American workers from not breaking away enough, we now realize that regularly separating from work to connect and rejuvenate is integral to peak performance.

Give your employees ample space for rest and recovery and they will come back to their work sharper, happier, and more resilient.

Prioritize results over process. One thing is sure amid the unknowns of these unprecedented times: hybrid work is here to stay. And while micromanagers may not be ready to accept this reality, people are most likely to perform at their best when they are free to accomplish their goals according to their own preferences.

This means giving employees the flexibility to work in a setting, onsite or virtual, they desire to do their job and achieve their goals. Employees demonstrated during the pandemic their ability to blend personal and professional responsibilities while remaining productive. 

Keep the conversation going. Checking in with your employees on a regular basis, not just to oversee their work but to nourish your relationship with them, will allow you to efficiently respond to employee issues — before they become a bigger problem.

It’s when you are open to what your employees have to say, listening to their feedback, and acting with agility on their astute ideas and requests, that they feel most valued and devoted.

Flow with failure. The post-pandemic frontier is rife with missteps as we navigate without a map. Leaders who see mistakes or wrong turns as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as signs of incompetency, create a safer and higher performing work environment. Businesses improve and employees are retained when smart risk-taking is encouraged and innovative methods for synergizing life and work are welcomed.

Employees are just trying to figure things out like you are, and striving for perfection will only add to the stress of that for everyone. At the end of the day, it’s the sense of “we’re all in this together” that gives employees the most powerful performance incentive.

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