What do employees really want from their employers and job?

Is it money, fame, bragging rights, remote work, no dress code, corner office, expense account? 

What is it that employees really want from their place of employment? 

If we really dig into it, once extrinsic benefits such as salary, fair treatment, and benefits are at an acceptable level, intrinsic benefits become comparatively underserved. 

Intrinsic benefits?

These are the psychological rewards that employees pursue once the basic elements of Maslow’s Hierarchy are met (physiological and safety). It’s how satisfied are we are with our self-development progress and sense of belonging at a company.  

So, what do employees want? 

Do we want bonuses, gym memberships, cafeteria buffets, or unlimited vacation? While these are great to attract new talent, they can be quickly taken for granted.

For the most part and in the long term, employees want collective and personal fulfillment. 

Me, Myself and I

Do I have the autonomy and conditions to do my best work?

Dan Pink, author of Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestselling book, ‘Drive’ put our internal motivation and performance down to 3 things: mastery, autonomy and purpose.

Let’s look at autonomy. By itself, autonomy is the control you have over your work and life in general but it may not quite go far enough. In order to get the best out of ourselves as employees, we also need challenges that capture our imaginations and excite us.

Introducing the concept of flow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is where you are performing an activity while being fully immersed, focused, and satisfied. Examples could be losing yourself while pitching a new client or being truly in the moment while creating something new. Quite a grandiose idea to apply to your employment setting but employees are searching for it whether they explicitly say so or not. As an employer, the conditions for flow are presented by creating team challenges that demand quality performance allowing the team to express themselves. 

Do your employees feel challenged to use their preferred skills to the fullest in their roles? 

Am I progressing? 

The second pillar of Pink’s principles is mastery.

Am I learning, improving, and achieving my potential? Do I see a clear route to career progression with my current employer? Does my employer have the ambition to match my own? 

Younger professionals are highly driven by the ability to deepen their skill set in an employment role. As many as 87% of millennials give further training and development as a reason for sticking with an employer. It speaks to our inner appetite to evolve beyond our current abilities but also be recognized for our performances. Few things deflate employees than not being acknowledged when they have worked tremendously hard to achieve success on theirs and their employers’ behalves. 

Am I seen and valued? 

Like most metrics for the individual team member, there are levels of appreciation that help to empower the employee, they range from a feeling of safety and to an acknowledgment of success in a role.

First, safety. As a basic concept it refers to the absence of physical, financial, or harmful threats but what it applies most frequently to is psychological safety.

Psychological safety is the freedom from the potential embarrassment or considerations of incompetence an employee feels when they contribute ideas, admit mistakes, highlight concerns, fail against KPIs or openly express themselves. In fact, Google reports psych safety as most responsible for team performance.

The evolution of safety could be considered to be care and acknowledgment. Again speaking to Maslow’s Hierarchy, our esteem needs as individuals contribute to our motivation and satisfaction. Does the boss see me? Do they value the work I have done? Do they care about me as an individual? Do I feel on the verge of getting fired each week?

Weekly check-ins and employee surveys to see overall team sentiment, is a step in the right direction. 

We, the People

Are we in the know?

In 1993, Ray D’Alio, a successful investor, brought the concept of radical transparency to his team. He explained the idea as the full and open honesty between all employees and leaders within his company. That meant every employee knowing intimate details on accounts, financial vulnerabilities, each other’s salaries, competitor threats, and concerns. It was certainly radical at the time but it’s been effective for one of the world’s wealthiest hedge funds. 

The driver behind D’Alio’s idea was to place trust in the team and eliminate barriers associated with hierarchies. What resulted was a heightened sense of trust, engagement, innovation, and enhancement of solution providing.

Employees need a sense of bi-directional and mutual trust to be the bedrock of their job security and to empower their contribution. It can be one thing to offer a long-term contract but a totally integrational experience to be invited by leadership to look inside and contribute to the future of the business.

Transparency and entrusting the team mobilizes a set of skills that can otherwise be left dormant. 

Do we have a sense of belonging? 

Trust can be the foundation of employee security. However, it is the sense of belonging that allows the collective to achieve beyond the sum of the individuals. Teams are more than a congregation of skilled individuals. It is a meshing of talented individuals motivated and sparking from each other. 

When employees feel a sense of belonging, it gives increased motivation to succeed as you have the opportunity to lift others with you rather than simply coming to work to do a shift and depart with a cheque.

On the flip side, employees are much quicker to leave a company if they are in a bad team than they are if the team is like a second home. 

Finally, are we striving toward a purpose?

Purpose, the final piece of Dan Pink’s trifecta, is simple but layered. Ultimately, as humans, we all want to impact the world around us in a positive way and belong to something bigger than ourselves.

Being a cog in a machine where we get no recognition or thanks is soul crushing, but being a cog in a machine that has a mission and purpose is incredibly motivating and draws the best out of people even on their worst days. 

Purpose is usually found at the intersection of personal values and goals and the integrated participation of a greater collective effort to impact our community. Given the transparent nature of our digital economies, employees are flocking to join value-based companies and those they believe to be forces for good. By welcoming them into a mission that aligns with personal ethics and morality, a far more driven employee results. The power of why will always provide fuel but yet is only used by 13% of US companies


The unsophisticated view of employee desires is to offer a competitive salary and think no more of it. What transpires is a team motivated by temporary metrics that fade when salary is no longer novel. Extrinsic benefits are essential but don’t lend themselves to the exceptional. They don’t satiate the drive and desires of employee teams and speak to their inner self-worth. 

Employee needs are complex. Even asking the team themselves can give superficial responses but it is up to the employer to discover the deeper aspirations of the individual. Empowering team leaders and offering trust, agency, and purpose are certain to put any company on the right track.