Using Your Emotional Intelligence to Get & Retain the Best Employees

    April 21, 2003

A major problem for employers today is getting the best employees and then keeping them. How do you do this? By understanding what it is employees really want. Being able to sense what others feel and want is empathy, an emotional intelligence competency.


Everything changes constantly and rapidly except one thing – what people want. This survey came out in 1946 in Foreman Facts, from the Labor Relations Institute of NY and was produced again by Lawrence Lindahl in Personnel magazine, in 1949.

Here is what employees say they want, starting with what’s most important to them:

1. Full appreciation for work done

2. Feeling “in” on things

3. Sympathetic help on personal problems

4. Job security

5. Good wages

6. Interesting work

7. Promotion/growth opportunities

8. Personal loyalty to workers

9. Good working conditions

10. Tactful discipline

Now take a look at what managers THINK employees want, starting with what they think is most important:

1. Good wages

2. Job security

3. Promotion/growth opportunities

4. Good working conditions

5. Interesting work

6. Personal loyalty to workers

7. Tactful discipline

8. Full appreciation for work done

9. Sympathetic help with personal problems

10. Feeling “in” on things

These studies have been replicated with similar results by Ken Kovach (1980); Valerie Wilson, Achievers International (1988); Bob Nelson, Blanchard Training & Development (1991); Sheryl & Don Grimme, GHR Training Solutions (1997-2001).


The discrepancies in these two lists of priorities show a decided lack of empathy on the part of managers – the ability to sense how others feel.

You’ll also notice that the top 3 things employees want require “soft” skills. Employees want to feel they’re appreciated, which requires the manager be able to show this. This is not giving gold stars or a $1000 bonus. It means speaking from the heart and showing your feelings. Letting the employee know they matter to you and are noticed.

Employees want to feel “in” on things. They want to feel connected and the good manager must have the interpersonal skills to establish this connection. Feeling “in” on things means being included emotionally. If the manager is discouraged, she shares this. If she’s enthusiastic about a project, she shares this as well. If she keeps her feelings to herself and only gives instructions and facts, the employee does not feel “in” on things.

The third requirement is “sympathetic help with their personal problems.” This may be the thing many managers dislike the most about their job, in which case, if this model is to work, they need to find another job. According to this survey, employees consider this part of the manager’s job.

It has long been considered “improper” or “undesirable” to bring your personal problems to work, but this survey came out in 1949 and has been replicated several times, showing that the need is not going to go away. Also, as we know, whether they’re welcome or not, we don’t leave our feelings behind when we leave the house in the morning. We are our emotions and our personal and professional lives interface continually.

Furthermore, if we don’t welcome and use our emotions at work, our productivity and level of performance will be stunted. Emotions give us information and energy and help us make better decisions.

Good managers must have high emotional intelligence competencies to sense what employees want and need and to be able to meet them-by relating to them and including them at the feelings level.

Good managers bring their emotions to work and manage them well. They welcome the emotions of their employees and manage those well also.

If you tune in to what your employees really want, and meet this need, your chances of hiring and keeping the best will be greatly improved. Improve your EQ and you’ll have more success.

Susan Dunn, MA, Marketing Coach, Marketing consultation,
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