Nick Bacon: Meeting the challenge of motivating expert employees

Retaining and motivating experts at the top of their game is an important challenge for organisations. Although employers routinely assess levels of job satisfaction, it is important to act on this information and address sources of dissatisfaction.

Nick Bacon

Satisfaction generally derives from positive job characteristics such as enriched jobs, good supervision and clear roles. In contrast, dissatisfaction stems from repetitive work, stress and insufficient support . Improving jobs and the supervisory environment are important for retention. Opportunities to lead projects or task forces are traditional ways of providing expert employees with breaks from their normal routine.

Attention should also be given to non-work factors that may trigger turnover. Having a baby, spouse relocation or other changes in personal circumstances, often encourage skilled-employees to re-evaluate their fit with the job and organisation. Opportunities for work-life balance adjustments are therefore important for retention.

Possibilities here may include home working, teleconferencing, and protecting experts from the encroachments of work demands into their social or family time. Flexible benefits may also enable them to adjust aspects of the compensation package to suit their personal requirements. A good example here is extending private health care to family members or the option of income protection. 

But experts are less likely to change employment if they feel embedded and have strong ties with people in their organisation and community. Employers should encourage participation in sports activities or community volunteering, with highly trained employees or executives in high demand among local charities and hospitals as non-executive directors.

Also important are the commitments skilled experts may make to other staff. Spending more time coaching and mentoring high potentials in the organisation may help employees feel embedded and reluctant to leave. Such activities may counteract shock events such as unsolicited job offers or friends leaving the organisation. 

Experts may also be motivated by increasing the sense of sacrifice associated with leaving . Benefits linked to longevity may increase this sense of sacrifice. Sabbaticals and other opportunities for personal development are good examples of such rewards.

Equally important is a good environment, which explains why many firms offer relaxation areas, onsite gyms and massages.

Finally, global surveys suggest recognition of their contribution by praise, commendation or special attention from leaders, remains an important motivation tool. Celebrating special achievements and the longevity of experts, as well as other employees, all aids keeping staff happy and motivated.

Nick Bacon is a professor of h uman resource management at Cass Business School.