10 ways to keep your best employees happy

Don’t lose your best performers to your competitors. Follow these tips to keep your top talent not only satisfied, but eager, motivated, and thinking about big new ideas.

Your best employees power and steer your organization. They are more creative and productive. They bring more value to your organization than other employees.

Keeping them happy must be your priority, because these employees are irreplaceable.

Here are 10 tips to keep them happy:

1. Know what motivates them.

Your best employees are likely intrinsically motivated. They are more motivated by their work and outcomes than extrinsic rewards, like money or days off.

Money and days off are nice, but if you really want to excite them, give them a project in line with their professional interests and the freedom to make it better than you ever thought it could be.

2. Remove obstacles.

Every great boss should remove obstacles, but it’s especially important with your best employees.

Try to anticipate the political battles and power struggles they may encounter in achieving their goals. It’s not that they don’t know how to navigate those obstacles, but that they consider them a waste of time and energy.

Power struggles shouldn’t get in the way of good work. Suppress the jockeying for position and power to keep your best workers centered on the prize rather than on the pain points.

3. Treat them unequally.

You read right. Your best employees are superior at their work to the rest of your staff, and treating everybody as absolute equals doesn’t help your organization.

When you treat your best employees equally with the rest of your staff, you force them to play the same game as your most mediocre employee. Not only does this annoy your top performers (see No. 1 and No. 2), it doesn’t take advantage of their abilities and wastes your most precious organizational resource.

4. Involve them.

Your best employees understand the bigger picture and want to know how their work contributes to it.

Withholding information will be fatal. Communicate with your best. Involve them in the communication process. Be transparent. Doing so will spark many additional ideas that contribute to the bottom line.

5. Be flexible.

Being flexible means a number of things. Here are a few don’ts and do’s:

  • Don’t force your best employees to come to the office all the time. Let them work remotely.
  • Don’t force them into a 9-5 schedule. Let them come in late and work late, or come in early and leave early.
  • Don’t force them to follow a stuffy dress code that has no effect on their success. Jeans never hurt anyone.
  • Don’t force them to follow dumb rules and policies. You know which ones I’m talking about.
  • Don’t get in the way of their side projects. Encourage them to consult and freelance as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their work. It’s not that they’re not committed to the job and company, they just likely want to explore a variety of interests, and outside work allows them to. If you keep them happy, they won’t leave.

As long as your top employees are productive and meet their goals, let them do their thing. You will get more out of them when they are happy, comfortable and not bogged down by red tape.

6. Listen.

Sometimes your best need to discuss ideas out loud or vent. Let them. Don’t interrupt. Show you value their thoughts. You don’t always have to act on what they say, but show them you care enough to listen and respect their ideas and opinions.

7. Give critical feedback.

Your best employees constantly question their work. They look for ways to make it better. Constantly telling them their work is great isn’t particularly helpful. When you take time to give thoughtful, critical feedback, the payoff is tremendous. You show you value them and their extraordinary effort and that you want to help them become better.

8. Don’t waste their time.

Particularly true for 8 out of 10 organizational meetings.

Forcing your best employees to leave their work several times a day to discuss irrelevant topics takes them out of their flow and cuts their productivity.

Meetings aren’t the problem. Bad, unorganized, unproductive meetings are.

9. Pay attention to culture.

Don’t underestimate culture’s power to keep people happy.

Your best would probably be fine working independently, but you can enhance the work environment by giving them chances to work and engage with others.

Not only will your best enjoy work more, but that group will push each other to a higher level.

10. Give them innovation time.

To stay motivated, your best employees need time to experiment with new things.

Build experimentation into their schedules. Let them tinker with things that interest them as long as they meet their work goals. Denying them can be de-motivating, and if their project doesn’t prove fruitful, they’ll abandon it.

This may seem to be counterproductive. Look at it this way: Your best employees produce double what your average employees produce. Even if you allow top talent to tinker for 15-20 percent of their time, they still produce far more than ordinary employees. Never forget: That tinkerer is possibly innovating the next big thing for your organization.

Karlyn Borysenko is the owner and principal of Zen Workplace, where a version of this article originally appeared.


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