The U.S. economy added over 300,000 new jobs in February, taking us to a 17 year low in unemployment. American business is facing a critical talent shortage in what is now considered a full employment economy.

As a result of this growing talent shortage, understanding what bonds employees to their employer is vital, and research points the way to some quick wins. What is the workplace benefit most valued by employees in America? Recent surveys say it isn’t money or vacation time or any benefit with a monetary value; it’s the freedom to work on our own schedules and in the most appropriate place, even if that is at home.

A survey by Pew Research Center found employees rated flexibility as the single most important benefit to them personally. Regression analysis by the employment review website Glassdoor, linking company reviews with benefits offered, found culture and values were the top predictors of employee satisfaction, with the quality of top leadership and career opportunities next. Pay and benefits were far down the list.

Trust Us and Offer Us Choice
This is a simple but profound message from American workers: give us choice and trust us to get the job done. Under safe conditions the human operating system is programmed to take pride in our work, to strive to achieve success with our teammates, and to dedicate ourselves to achieving goals we care about. Wise leaders understand that a positive workplace culture that trusts employees to make decisions and be responsible for the outcomes increases employee engagement.

Command and Control Leadership Isn’t Enough
When management has an “us or them” mentality, so do employees. This attitude seeps into the organization and takes root in employee attitudes and behaviors. An authoritarian and punitive atmosphere may cause employees to work hard (but not at their best) because it begets fear. The discretionary effort offered by engaged employees in positive culture workplaces is much different than this forced level of effort necessitated by the need to avoid punishment. Fear might yield short-term results, but in a tight labor market offing more job choice than ever before, workers not remain long in high-stress environments. They have unprecedented access to other job opportunities and then document their grievances online once they leave.

Action Steps:

  • Consider how your organization can add flexibility for employees, such as when personal and medical needs arise.
  • Make sure leaders at every level have management skills beyond the old command and control model.