More and more, money alone doesn’t cut it to attract and keep employees.
It may be that the nature of our work has changed. It may be that more of us are summiting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, enjoying the luxury of striving for self-actualization rather than worrying about necessities. It may be the result of intensified competition for top talent. Most likely, it may be all of these factors, combined with countless others. But it is not an outstanding question. Money alone doesn’t cut it.
20,000 IT employees surveyed by InformationWeek were asked “what matters most to you about your job?,” and the top answer was “challenge of job/responsibility.” Corporate Executive Board, in their research on engagement, highlighted that there is a huge difference between the factors that attract employees, and those that keep them. While salary draws employees, emotional engagement was found to be four times more powerful than rational engagement in driving employee effort – emotional engagement being, in part, belief in the organization and in your contribution to its goals.
Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at M.I.T., conducted research that revealed that financial compensation can actually hinder performance on creative problem-solving tasks, but framing a task as simply a challenge improved performance. And increasingly, public servants’ real contribution is in developing creative solutions to thorny problems, and in managing complex relationships.
To turn to a real-world example: Healing illness is difficult and expensive; keeping people healthy in the first place is easier, but in many ways more complex. To solve the problem of the latter among the chronically homeless population in her community, Rebecca Onie knew that she needed a talented, creative team, and her novel approach to attracting the right volunteers was to emulate the compensation model of college sports teams.
Every morning, students are waking up pre-dawn in campuses around the country to run themselves into the ground, practice drills over and over, and compete fiercely with their peers for the positions of greatest responsibility on sports teams. They do this because in exchange, the organization to which they belong affords them status, challenge, and unparalleled developmental opportunity.
Some organizations – including Onie’s – leverage this niche form of compensation to ensure constant first-round draft picks. With the uniform compensation system of the public service, financial compensation is already off the table. However, to draw and keep the people we need, we must focus, relentlessly, on challenging them. The perception of status, the employee development, and the creativity required to solve our most complex problems will follow.
Kent Aitken is a national program coordinator at Public Works and Government Services Canada and an enthusiastic member of the GC community. He is building on a background in Business Administration and Political Science/Economics by pursuing a M.Sc. in Economics.