Business Trend: What Your Employees are Thinking


Clint Pulver is an author and keynote speaker around the globe. He wrote “I Love It Here” and is known for being The Undercover Millennial in workplaces to learn what makes employees stay for the long run and what drives them out. He will be a speaker at the 2023 MHEDA Convention, where he’ll discuss more about employee engagement and retention. In this Q&A, he’ll share a glimpse into this topic.

TMJ: How can employers tell when employees are becoming a little bit distant?

Pulver: It’s a huge trend right now with the great resignation and quiet quitting. Sometimes the tricky part for a leader is to know an employee’s current status. That is the difficult thing because the perception of leadership versus the reality of the employee experience is usually a night and day difference. There’s usually no incentive for an employee to tell a boss how they’re feeling, especially if it’s something that is in the realm of dissatisfaction or hardship within the job. So what do they do? They just leave the job, or worse, they mentally leave and then stay. Now more than ever, one of the greatest things that we’ve seen and that leaders are doing is getting good at understanding and checking the status of their employees.

I’d recommend three questions that all managers ask their employees right now: number one is, what do I do as your manager to keep you here? Number two is, what is getting in the way of your success while you’re here at work? And number three, how can I help you get there? What can I do as the manager to help you write a better story?

The goal is to create an environment where employees will actually tell you how they feel. And they feel safe expressing those needs. The better a leader can get at doing that, the more efficient they are at creating connections and getting authentic feedback in the workplace.

TMJ: When you went undercover at different companies and employees said, “I love it here,” what were some common factors?

Pulver: Specifically, when employees hated their job, they talked about a manager. When employees loved their job, they spoke of a mentor. Mentorship versus management was key. As a boss, you’re the number one reason why people stay. You’re also the number one reason why people leave. Close to around 65% of all turnover, we could trace back to the leader. When people left, it was because they hated their boss. They were just dissatisfied with the connection, support and advocacy that a boss gave, but when people loved their jobs, they talked about a mentor. Mentorship is not management. Mentorship has to be earned in this industry. We give titles out all the time. But the unique thing about mentorship is you can only become the mentor once the mentee invites you into their heart. If you’ve ever had a mentor, you chose them. How do you become the mentor in the story, not just the manager? That was the first and foremost most telling and significant factor to an organization’s success when retaining their people.

TMJ: On the flip side of that, when you spoke with people, were there common reasons they were unhappy aside from not liking the management?

Pulver: Always number one was management. Second is when an organization failed to spark the possibilities for their employees. So I contest that down to two things: when an organization failed to show an employee’s potential and worth. Because as an employee, if you can’t grow in this specific business that you’re in, I promise you’ll go and grow somewhere else. Obviously, with that, you want to not only grow monetarily but to grow in purpose and passion and do something that you feel is what you’re put on this earth to do. So if they fail to communicate that and say, “Hey, listen, because you’re a part of our company, let me tell you everything I see you becoming. Let’s create a growth development plan so that we can grow you into whatever you want to achieve.”

The last piece of the growth is the follow- up date. What can a manager do to consistently remind their employees that what matters to the employee matters to the boss? Because if you’ve got a really big goal at your place of work, — and that manager knows that and is consistently saying, “It’s coming, you’re on track.” — you’re going to get there. That means something.

The second piece is worth. And when I say worth, I want you to think of recognition. How do I recognize people in a way where they feel seen, heard and understood? Vocal praise was number one when we asked employees.

The crazy thing about vocal praise is it costs companies $0 to implement; a quick email, a thank you note, a phone call. You’re just saying, “Hey, I appreciate everything you’re doing. Thank you. I need you to know that that stuff matters to people.” How do you spark the possibilities by communicating your employees’ potential and worth so well that they see it within themselves?

TMJ: Earlier, you mentioned managers creating an environment where employees feel comfortable coming to them when unsatisfied. But what do you suggest for managers who might not have that environment with their employees yet, but would like to get there? How would you advise that they keep tabs on morale or maybe encourage that environment to happen and grow organically?

Pulver: I think one thing has always stood out in my research when we would go in and do undercover stuff, and as I would continue to ask employees, “Why do you stay? Why do you love your job?” They consistently described moments. Moments. I’ve never in all the interviews I’ve ever done had somebody say, I just love where I work because my boss is so good at time management. Nobody ever says that. They talk about the moments managers created in their lives that got to the heart of them.

So, as a leader or manager, I would invite you to consider the importance of not so much a to-do list but the power of a to don’t list. Managers are good at the to-dos. But the greatest managers are masterful at what they must stop doing. Because employees spell mentorship T-I-M-E. First off, we talk about connection and ask, “How do I create this culture?” I would tell you to say no to a few things as a manager, so you can say yes more to your people and sit down and do a growth development plan. I could conduct a status interview with you because I’ve got the freedom and the flexibility to do that. So consider that as part of the equation. Not so much, what are all the things that you can do? But what are the things that you can stop doing so you can say yes to your people?

After verbal affirmation being number one, in no particular order, these are the other things that made employees feel appreciated.
Vocal praise: Let employees know they did a great job.
Experiences: Give employees tickets to something fun such as a movie or excursion, to thank them for their work.
Money: Give employees raises or bonuses.
Awards and trophies: Have an office equivalent to a “letterman jacket,” as Pulver puts it, that employees can proudly display.
Food: Have lunch catered after a big project or have a recurring day that food is provided. This gesture meets employee needs and also provides bonding time.
Time off and flexibility: Trusting employees to be flexible with their time and awarding days off outside of allotted PTO shows employees that they’re highly appreciated.