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In a recent breakfast briefing on digital transformation we discussed staff retention, which remains one of the very biggest issues faced by modern businesses, and is a particular problem within digital teams.

People choose to leave companies for all sorts of reasons. Compensation and career progression concerns are typically at top of the list of reasons to bail out, but there are plenty of underlying issues that affect job satisfaction.

Sometimes the smallest things can have a disproportionate impact on how people feel about where they work. These minor beefs can push people over the edge if left unchecked.

Putting your people first

Many companies have (or at least claim that they have) a customer-first mindset, but a business is only as good as the people it hires, and as such perhaps a ‘staff-first’ mindset is the right way to go? 

If you want to delight customers you need to hire the right kind of people, as great products and competitive pricing will only take a company so far. You need brilliant people too: people who care as much about the brand as they do the customers.

Simply put, happy employees lead to happy customers, and happy customers lead to more profit. 

Sears figured this out two decades ago, and created a handy flowchart (or the world’s first infographic, if you prefer to look at it that way), to help visualise things…

So then, what can you do to improve employee satisfaction? Here are 25 ideas…

1. Respect them

It goes without saying that employees must feel respected by their managers and colleagues. A lack of respect in the workplace is a poison for which there is no antidote.

2. Listen, and then listen some more

Managers should maintain an open door policy, and encourage staff to approach them to ask questions, share ideas, and voice concerns.

3. Deal with their housekeeping / admin / tech hassles

Remember that ‘PC Load Error’ scene in Office Space? Try to minimise the day-to-day hassles that can make working in a modern office a real ballache. 


4. Accept mistakes (at least to begin with)

We all make errors from time to time. No big deal. Smart people will learn from them. 

5. Be transparent

Few things are as important in modern business as transparency. It’s harder than ever to paper pull the wool over your customer’s eyes if your products or services aren’t up to scratch. This also applies to your staff. They may not always like what they hear, but they’ll respect you for being open and honest. It makes sense to tell it like it is, when you’re able to do so.

6. Make space for creativity

Are there ways of making mundane jobs a bit more interesting? 

7. Encourage personality

For the most part, the days where a brand had a single tone of voice are long gone. Parameters and guidelines are better than scripts, both for your customers and your staff. I think it makes sense to allow staff to communicate like humans via your service / content / social channels. Your customers will love you for it. Robots suck.

8. Training / skills development

The development of skills is good for business and good for morale, if done in the right way. The more cynical employees may say that you’re only doing this to make more money, but good managers are big believers in career development, and making bright staff even brighter.

9. Beware of bureaucracy

The bigger a company gets, the more painful its admin processes become. Do what you can to minimise red tape. 

10. Create a wonderful environment

Office slide installation firms are doing rather well these days. Don’t underestimate the physical environment’s impact on your company culture, and staff happiness levels


11. Rewards

Pay, perks, benefits, bonuses. Be very careful about taking away small perks.

12. Promotions

Staff should be bumped up the ladder on merit. It is also important to give them some visibility on their career development options.

13. Help staff to bond with one other

This is important for big and small companies alike. It used to be so much easier, when there were just 10 of us! Pub lunches, team days out, mentoring, messing about on boats… all of these things can help employees forge the bonds that they need to enjoy work.

14. Give recognition

If an employee has done something remarkable / innovative / valuable / useful / clever then be sure to thank them (in person, via company emails, in all-staff meetings, etc). Credit where credit’s due. And be warned: managers that steal the credit will cause ill feeling while undermining themselves. And that never ends well.

15. Be polite

I’m all for being to the point, but there’s nothing wrong with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in a business environment. 

16. Embrace remote working

I think Marissa Mayer is doing a lot right at Yahoo but I’m not a fan of her ‘no working from home’ policy (which might be tactical, as opposed to one of her firmer beliefs). Remote working minimises commuting costs and hassles, and can actually help to increase productivity. 

17. Banish stupid uniforms

Long ago, when I was paying some serious dues, I worked in a call centre. It was hands down the worst job I have ever had, but it taught me a good deal about customer service (and how not to manage a team). They made me wear a suit, despite the fact that my role wasn’t customer-facing. Did it make me have “a more business-like attitude”, as they said it would? Absolutely not! It actually made me subversive. 

18. Be tolerant

Have you ever been stuck in traffic, or on a train? Of course you have. In the big city a manager’s understanding of the hassles of commuting is as important as an employee’s commitment to being punctual.

19. Beware of micromanagement

Every job ad I write specifically states that I hate micromanagement. Why not simply hire bright people, point them in the right direction, and let them get on with things? Micromanagement is not the same as…

20. Mentoring and coaching

These are two different things, and both have their merits. Mentoring is being able to chat to a senior manager (but not your direct boss) about all kinds of things. Coaching is more specific, and targeted to improving skills in various areas, rather than employee wellbeing. Consider introducing both, in a formal way, for those who want it.

21. Launch (and act on) in-company surveys

An annual, anonymous staff survey is a good way of taking the pulse of your business, and will help you to measure employee satisfaction.

22. Never pay staff late

If there’s one thing they’ll hate you for, it’s this. Your employees are not an overdraft facility. It is appalling business practice to pay staff late. Pay them early, dammit!

23. Banish fear

Have you ever been in a meeting where perfectly reasonable ideas are immediately and openly rubbished? Brainstorming meetings where people are afraid to speak up and contribute are utterly pointless. Bad ideas can help you get to the good stuff.

24. Never undermine staff in public

If you need to have words then it’s best to do it behind closed doors.

25. Lack of vision

Solid leadership is absolutely essential if you want to retain your key staff. Dissatisfaction can kick in if a bold, strategic vision is AWOL. Employees need to get behind a clear vision in order to achieve their personal objectives to meet a company’s goals. 

No doubt I’ve missed out a bunch of obvious things… please leave a comment below if you have something to add. What causes disharmony in the workplace? What drives you nuts?

Finally, a word from my sponsor: Econsultancy helps companies to audit their people and their processes, as part of an organisational change / digital transformation programme. If you need any help on that score, be sure to get in touch. Put your people first!

Chris Lake

Published 10 September, 2013 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (4)


Mata Atlas, Marketing Intern at Critical Control

Nice article Chris.

I really enjoyed reading this article. I particularly agree with the employee engagement practices, listening in particular, that are highlighted in the article. The employees do really play an important role in the company's feedback process.

Just to hit on it a bit, as far as employee recognition goes, I think any company would find it useful to have someone else provide the service to them if they cannot afford it for any reason. I know this one company called SQM (link: http://goo.gl/aURCnK ) that provides an internal feedback. I think any company interested should look into this sort of thing.

about 3 years ago


Cathy Hu, SEO at Shoplet

Try to provide your employee with fun office supplies, it's a good way to keep them working happily, and easily get rid of pressure. Here is a good website to get interesting office supplies: http://www.shoplet.co.uk/

almost 3 years ago


Josh Michael, Managing Director at ESL Basics

This was a really good combination of theory and practical solutions. An idea that I have had success with could fall under both #10 and #11, which is an upgraded coffee solution. I get my team's coffee from My Coffee Pub and the response has been great. Here is the link if you want it... http://www.mycoffeepub.com/corporate-coffee-subscription

almost 2 years ago


Lauren Deegan, HR Manager at Cristaux International

I think this article got it spot on. The part I would have to agree with the most is 13, team building is huge and it has a way of affecting the work place environment and vibe. It's crucial that all the employees work together for a common goal and at the same time like to be around each other. A year ago we had some issues with getting different teams to bond and it proved disastrous. We realized that employees need to grow as a team and think like one too. After taking part in several team building exercises, we are proud to say that our work atmosphere is amazing and every one of the employees is happy.

10 months ago

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