Ask Madison: What Do Employees Really Want?

March 31, 2022
| ByMadison

Salary aside, here are 4 expectations that top the list of what employees want at work.

To reaffirm the value of their teams, and to attract new members, one of the most important things an organization can do is listen.

One study suggests that 4 out of 5 employees feel their voices aren’t heard equally at work. It’s high-past time to fix that! To have an engaged, and present workforce, we must truly listen to what workers find as the most valuable aspects of their work life. And then act accordingly.

Combine industry stats along with internal team data to build your EVP and lay the foundation of your employee rewards and recognition.

Numerous studies are available that indicate the benefits and attributes that employees and candidates find most appealing. Use this information as a benchmark and as a starting point to soliciting feedback.

In conjunction with the data, it’s most important to drill down into the nuances of what employees want in a company-wide rewards and recognition program. This can be accomplished in different ways:

  • A company-wide survey with specific questions on what they value
  • Company forums and discussion groups
  • The old-fashioned suggestion box!

Whichever method you choose, what’s important is that you are asking the team to provide feedback and then using this feedback along with studied evidence to craft a well-balanced and comprehensive program.


Bridging the data into tangible deliverables for rewards and recognition.

What’s valuable to employees often envelopes both the elements of a company benefits package as well as your employee rewards and recognition resource. Although closely aligned, they are not one in the same. Be mindful to not replace one with the other – a health insurance plan is not a rewards program. However, a rewards and recognition program can certainly complement a focus on employee health, and can support other valuable benefits as well. 

Below, AskMadison outlines important industry data on the attributes and benefits that employees value and demonstrates a relationship for building a rewards and recognition program on those findings.
Expectation 1: To have Flexibility
  • 39% [of surveyed workers] said they'd consider quitting if their bosses weren't flexible about them working from home.
  • Additionally, millennials and Gen Z accounted for 49% of the respondents who said they'd consider quitting.

While PTO and a remote-work model are components of an employment agreement and official company policy, offering flexible time and likened opportunities could be tied to rewards and recognition as well. For instance, in many R&R programs, companies will offer incentive trips, company events, outings and more to celebrate their team as part of a reward. Personalized experiences that an employee chooses as their reward can also mean a break from work, and perhaps time can be given as a redemption choice within the rewards program. Flexibility is based on supporting a more sustainable and enjoyable work-life balance. Something as convenient as planning grocery deliveries as a reward option is a value-add idea that contributes to a positive work-life balance.

By aligning with flexibility as a core positive outcome of your R&R program, you are helping to address a top expectation that has been developing across the workforce spectrum for nearly two decades, and one that has since morphed into a non-negotiable for talent seeking new opportunities in a post-pandemic work world.


Expectation 2: To be Healthy
  • Pressure in the workplace study suggests that 71% of workers typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.

Health programs are often a deciding factor for employees remaining in a position or a candidate accepting an offer. They are a staple of most all benefits packages. An R&R program can enhance an employer’s commitment to the health and particularly the well-being of both mind and body for their team members. While an R&R program will not manage deductibles or doctor’s visits, rewards can be designed to positively support employee wellness, particularly mental health.

Given the stress factors faced by today’s worker that affect their health, there are a number of rewards- and recognition-based options to help them de-stress, through experiences, wellness gifts, fitness stipends and subscriptions, and team-building opportunities that can produce a positive outcome. From a psychological aspect, human nature responds positively to feeling valued and appreciated, which will manifest physically with a heightened sense of overall well-being.

It simply feels good to know you are appreciated and will do wonders to manage the stressors that affect our physicality.


Expectation 3: To Grow and Learn
  • PwC finds that 77% of employees are ready to learn new skills or completely re-train.
  • A separate workplace survey report found that 94% of surveyed employees responded that if a company invested in helping them learn, they would stay longer.

As the work world changes – and particularly as technology seeps into job descriptions, employees and candidates alike understand the importance of and are seeking out opportunities for reskilling and retraining to further their careers. Benefit packages have long-included tuition reimbursement programs and educational allowances. To supplement these offerings, an R&R program can be designed to include opportunities to select training, seminars and learning tools as rewards that double to support further education for team members.

Programs within Madison’s Maestro, also include a robust performance feedback and goal-setting component. Maestro One ties in well to helping an employee build a performance track, complete with goals and milestones, highlighting areas to increase skills for their professional growth.


Expectation 4: To be Valued
  • 82% of surveyed employees are happier if recognized at work.
  • Another recent survey found employee recognition was most important to 37% of employees. 
  • Recognition is key to retaining your team. A McKinsey study on the factors of the Great Attrition notes: “By contrast, the top three factors employees cited as reasons for quitting were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54 percent) or their managers (52 percent) or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51 percent)”

All rewards and recognition programs at their core are established in order to make team members feel valued. They are inherently designed to improve engagement, celebrate moments and recognize individuals for their hard work. It is evident through data alone that this is not a fleeting feeling – employees expect engagement and recognition in order to successfully continue in their role. And, they will move on if those expectations are not met.  

Programs that have multiple touch-points that allow for recognition from leadership, managers and peers perform well. Through a combination of cost-effective tools in personal accolades and social recognition to larger elements like incentive travel rewards and company celebrations, we can accomplish what employees want: they have told us in no uncertain terms that they need to feel heard, involved and that they matter.

Center employees for optimal experience

All of these elements combined develop a thriving culture that centers the employee and great work. With so much choice in the work-world, organizations are reimagining their recognition and rewards programs to engage and retain their team and to be an attractive organization to new talent. It’s also important to know that it’s not one-sided: for the investment in your team, in return organizations will experience an engaged workforce that will produce, have increased levels of loyalty and result in lower turnover. Therefore, understanding the root expectations of employees and designing rewards and recognition around that will pave the way to successful employer-employee relationships.

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