What are some effective tactics used to keep employees motivated and enthusiastic for the company vision and to achieve long-term retention? (developers mainly)

Or if you are an employee: what have employers done that has worked to keep yourself motivated and enthusiastic besides the obvious of salary?

For example, do you:

  • give out extra $ for certain achieved goals (and if, how do you define goals and check them?)
  • do you provide days/hours when they can do "their own thing" and perhaps showcase it later to get some "feeling of recognition"?

I'm looking for some concrete methods that have worked (either implemented as a manager or experienced as an employee) in what scenario and the reasoning behind them.

  • 23
    I'm not entirely convinced this is an answerable question - as it stands it's very likely to draw a lot of opinions, rather than answers. If you have a specific situation at your workplace, and are struggling to see which part of it may be harming your retention - that might be more answerable.
    – user81330
    Feb 26, 2020 at 10:30
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    As it is you are not asking an answerable question, but directly solicit opinions, so voting close for that. If you can turn it into something with clear issue to solve, happy to help.
    – Aida Paul
    Feb 26, 2020 at 10:32
  • 1
    @trainoasis I've given your question an edit to try and firm it up into something more solidly answerable - hopefully I haven't strayed too far from your original intent, but if so I apologize and you can feel free to edit yourself.
    – motosubatsu
    Feb 26, 2020 at 10:36
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    That seems like an extremely broad question, highly depending on conditions. is there a practical problem you are trying to solve? what are your limitations? without these details it is impossible to answer. Feb 26, 2020 at 23:00
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    @JoeStrazzere I for one think this isn't on topic as it's too broad (as opposed to opinion based). To give it a legitimately good answer you would need a longer format than this one. There's no mention of company size, barely a mention of employer type, and is asking for a list of things rather than to solve a particular problem. Making it focused by adding details as to why OP is asking it - as opposed to just a generic question - would solve that.
    – Joe
    Feb 26, 2020 at 23:03

11 Answers 11


Or if you are an employee: what have employers done that has worked to keep yourself motivated and enthusiastic besides the obvious of salary?

For example, do you:

  • give out extra $ for certain achieved goals (and if, how do you define goals and check them?)

  • do you provide days/hours when they can do "their own thing" and perhaps showcase it later to get some "feeling of recognition"?

Different people are motivated by different things.

In my opinion, in general, gimmicks and small rewards aren't long term motivators. They are nice, but aren't very strong, nor are they long-lasting.

The thing that always kept me going was a feeling that my work was valued, that it mattered. I liked it when I felt appreciated by my boss. I liked it when I felt respected.

The possibility to learn and grow within the company often motivated me. I don't think anyone really likes to just cruise and get bored - I know I didn't.

The best job I ever had allowed me to do things I had never done before. It allowed me to grow professionally. Of course I was paid well enough and got some promotions. But the thing that really motivated me was that I felt that my hard work actually made a difference to the company, and to our customers. It motivated me enough to put in a ton of hours when it was necessary. For me, it was powerful stuff - no gimmicks, no participation trophies, just the ability to make a real impact.

I loved that job. Unfortunately, the company was eventually purchased by a megacorp, and the culture that motivated me dribbled away. I eventually moved on.

  • Thank you for answering, nicely put. Could you think about what actually gave you "I felt that my hard work actually made a difference to the company" feel? What were the key factors that gave you that feeling, directly, or indirectly?
    – trainoasis
    Feb 26, 2020 at 13:09
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    The most impactful thing that happened to me was when my project lead came to me after something was done and personally thanked me for the amazing work I've done and for the time and effort I've put into making it happen. I never felt so appreciated and proud and thats something that is really hard to feel anywhere today. In the end he was basically just thanking me for the work I was paid to do anyway. This was something that I still remember to this day even if I moved to other projects as I'm a freelancer. This shows them that they are more than just assets to the company.
    – Chapz
    Feb 26, 2020 at 15:46
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    As an anecdote, I worked for a company that put out rewards for the highest X, among several metrics, making us compete for the reward. I worked hard to get one I really liked, but the same person always won and did that time, too. I still wanted it, so I found the same thing online for < $20 and bought it. I never bothered to try again, so gimmicks giveaways can also be demotivators, too. Feb 26, 2020 at 21:45
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    Trust - it is of course implicit in what you mention, but I think it deserves to be emphasised, since many non-technical people don't quite get that part, instead thinking that 'respect' means something along the line of alpha-maleness.
    – j4nd3r53n
    Feb 27, 2020 at 8:39
  • This. Once you have a good enough pay (it's important), then it's about challenging and making the person grow. Note that some persons will leave early anyway, not because they don't like the company, but just because that's how they are.
    – dyesdyes
    Feb 27, 2020 at 9:14


People are happy when they feel they have control over their environment and absolutely miserable when they don't, regardless of how objectively good or bad the environment is.

Take for example Chinese Water Torture. Having a drop of water fall on your forehead isn't painful, it's barely even annoying. But when it happens to you over and over and there's nothing you can do to stop it, it becomes an excruciating form of psychological torture.

Dripping water is uncommon in offices but there are thousands of other examples.

  • Fixed-height chairs that are just not quite the right height for you to sit comfortably.

  • Maybe you're within earshot of the front door buzzer and your manager refuses to let you wear noise cancelling headphones.

  • Maybe your company has a particular IDE they force you to use, which is fine for most things but is absolutely infuriating when it comes to running Unit Tests.

  • Maybe your manager refuses to let you have your monitor in vertical rather than horizontal position.

  • Maybe procurement refuses to buy more than 2 (or, god forbid, just a single) monitor per employee.

  • Maybe they're just cheap, and will happily pay you an extra £10k if you negotiate for it, but won't pay an extra £500 for a faster computer.

  • Maybe they force you to cover up or take out your piercings each and every day.

  • Maybe they force you to wear a suit (or some other rigidly-controlled dress code).

The possibilities are endless, and those are just minor annoyances. The same dynamic is true (and increasingly destructive) for more substantive matters:

Where you work. How you work. What you're working on. When you're allowed to take your breaks. What your office hours are. What meetings you're involved in and when and where they take place. Unpredictable, opaque or erratic managers, corporate priorities, promotion criteria, feedback in general.

A lot of things are fixed and can't be changed (or at least not easily, cheaply, and without major disruption). Chances are your company has a fixed location and a relatively fixed office layout, with a finite number of offices, non-negotiable job responsibilities and a pre-existing tech stack.

But to the greatest extent possible, even if it's just a tiny bit, give your employees agency to make their own decisions & adjustments. Articulate the priorities that matter (deadlines, budgets, KPIs, team morale, corporate strategy), push for as much freedom for your employees as you can, and then trust them to achieve those results in whatever way works best for them.

Personal Experience

I'v been with my current company through 7 years and five promotions now. Our office is fixed, the desk layout is pretty fixed, and it's a client-facing office so the dress code, while relaxed (Jeans and shirts) has limits.

Other than that, they are incredibly flexible with employees. Our Tech Stack is Microsoft, but peoples' work machines vary from personal laptops all the way through to my own high-speed 4-screen setup.

We have full-timers, part-timers, people in various stages of parental leave, we have pretty fixed core hours but give people what flexibility we can (+/- an hour, and when you're a parent on a school run, that hour between starting at 08:30 and starting at 09:30 makes a world of difference). People studying for various qualifications who want to be able to book out a meeting room so they can study for an hour over lunch.

We let people leave early to get to appointments, or start late, and let them decide when/how to make up the time. As long as people are producing good results, and it's not causing adverse effects, they're free to take breaks when and how they want, and nobody's standing there with a stopwatch counting the minutes.

There's a massive variety of desk ornamentation. Some people just want post-its, a screen and a Biro. Mine has (as at time of posting) 9 rockets, 3 dragons, a space shuttle, a whole sea of stationery, and the Hi-TecPoint pens I really love.

The client admin team need to be available to answer the phones, but everyone else is free to use headphones as and when they want to. We encourage people to articulate their preferred forms of communication (face to face, email, chat, etc.) and we encourage everyone to use those where possible.

At all levels and at all times, the question is always "Which parts of this are actually fixed and immutable, and which parts can we give people flexibility over".

If you give people the freedom and agency to configure their own environments then they will make themselves happy and engaged far more effectively than you could ever hope to achieve through blunt performance goals and central planning.

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    +1 for "Which parts of this are actually fixed and immutable, and which parts can we give people flexibility over" alone! Feb 27, 2020 at 1:45

Pay, bonuses, working conditions, all those things are important.

Here's what has worked for me, both as a supervisor and employee.

  1. Gratitude from managers: Say "thanks" to everybody on your team at least once a week. And really mean it. As a manager for the company when you say "thanks" you're speaking for the company. Employees will get that.

  2. Push credit down the hierarchy: When people in your department do something good and somebody says to you, "hey good job" always say, "It was my team that did it. I'll pass on your compliment." And, to the best of your ability take the blame for stuff that goes wrong rather than pushing it down.

  3. Recognition for good work: When somebody does something good, even a small thing, recognize them in public. "John Smith did a great job handling a telephone call from a notoriously difficult customer, and made them happy" or "Fred Robinson and his team were just awarded a patent for their zumbinator device, which will help our company succeed for years to come." Notice that the recognition should say why the good thing helped the company.

  4. Be serious about pay: Never, ever, even once, joke about peoples' pay. Never, ever, even once, say anything about peoples' pay unless you're absolutely sure it is true. (Don't say "I'll try to get you a raise." Say "I got you a raise.")

  5. A clear career path: In college I had a job as a cleaner in a food factory. On the day I started, one of the the other new-hires asked this question. "Can you work up?" meaning "If I do a good job can I expect more responsibility and promotions?" If you want to retain people, the answer to "Can you work up?" must be a resounding yes with examples. ("The VP of Sales started in the mail room" is good, if true)

(By the way, a person who is willing to clean grease traps in food-preparation places is practically guaranteed to find work. (-: )

  • 7
    As a 2.1, you can add that the sh*t stops rolling downhill with the manager. I had a manager that said he'd be the target for the blame and put the team as the target for the praise. Fortunately we didn't have to test the "blame" targeting very many times, but he did what he said. Of course, that was the public side, and later we'd hear about what needed fixed, but still in a positive manner, as in "how do we avoid this problem in the future" rather than "you did bad things". Feb 26, 2020 at 21:56
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    To me the "Thanks" thing is a bit tricky - it can be important, but it can also serve to reinforce division - making it seem more that the individual contributor (IC) is working for the manager, rather then the IC and the manager working together in different roles for the same organisation. Of course the reality will be some blend of both situations.
    – bdsl
    Feb 26, 2020 at 22:45
  • I editing my answer @bdsl I strongly believe that when a manager says "thanks" that she's speaking for the whole organization.
    – O. Jones
    Feb 26, 2020 at 22:55
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    "... recognize them in public." If you play that card, make 200% sure you are actually correct. The rest of the team aren't fools, and they have long memories. When John Smith's "happy customer" comes back next month even more unhappy than before because the advice given didn't actually solve the problem, you have just lost your credibility with the entire team.
    – alephzero
    Feb 27, 2020 at 0:43

Since none of the other answer's have mentioned it, I'm going to suggest thinking about where your employees are in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It's typically depicted as a pyramid. A good salary typically covers the bottom level (food, shelter, etc) and some of the second (safety). To retain workers longer, fulfilling your worker's needs from the bottom up is an excellent place to start. Here's a few hints to get you started:

  • Level 2 (Safety) Their salary should mostly cover this outside of the workplace, but inside the workplace, you should be trying to ensure the workers are physically and emotionally safe, as well as financially safe by feeling that their employment is secure.
  • Level 3 (Social Belonging) Employees should feel like they are part of a team, achieving goals for the organisation
  • Level 4 (Self Esteem) Employees should feel confident in their abilities and their contribution to the team is impactful.
  • Level 5 (Self Actualisation) Employees should be allowed to grow their professional capacity, through additional responsibilities or training in different technologies.

The reason this is usually shown as a pyramid, is that the higher levels don't really achieve much without the support of the lower levels (i.e. additional responsibilities (self actualisation) don't mean much to someone if they can't feed themselves and their family (basic physiological needs))

  • +1, small note: I would think the Self Esteem point needs to be separated. Confident in abilities stands apart from impactful contribution, which I would argue (from my own opinion, not based on anything else) should be in Level 3. Most likely due to my own values though ;-)
    – rkeet
    Feb 27, 2020 at 11:00

give out extra $ for certain achieved goals (and if, how do you define goals and check them?)

That's not going to keep employees motivated and engaged, that's just going to force their focus in a particular direction. You're basically shifting them to a commission based paycheck.

do you provide days/hours when they can do "their own thing" and perhaps showcase it later to get some "feeling of recognition"?

Sure, that's one potential tactic - but it's no substitute for what I would call the "key" things, those being:

  • Salary - Money talks. That's why they're there, after all. Give them a good salary with regular raises and it'll keep them happy and motivated.
  • Perks - Similar to the above, but bonuses, free healthcare, company car etc. - all "nice to haves" that may dissuade employees from moving elsewhere if those perks aren't matched.
  • Flexibility - Can employees work from home when they need to? Can they adjust their hours if they want? Work from other locations?
  • Company culture - Sounds cheesy, but in their day to day work are your employees made to feel valued, included and like they're a great part of your company, or are they harassed, made to work overtime, part of a toxic environment etc.?

Different people value the above differently. Some don't care about turning up to the same place day in, day out and putting up with a toxic culture as long as they're earning the best possible money. Others don't care about raw salary so much, but really want / need flexibility. Others are taken in by lots of perks.

In reality however, if you want to retain a variety of people effectively, I would say that all of the above are necessary to at least some degree.

  • 1
    I would add a comment about the quality of the office space under perks. Having a nice area around yourself in daily life feels nice :)
    – Petter TB
    Feb 27, 2020 at 10:26

Since I'm taking from granted that everyone's motivated by at least slightly different things, I will challenge the fact that employee motivation's best handled by randomly grabbing in a list of ideas you then implement. So many startups fall into the "we have a ping pong table" kind of argument it became a laughing matter between employees.

give out extra $ for certain achieved goals (and if, how do you define goals and check them?)

My company does this and it has become an apple of discord for some of the employees. I have enough money with my base salary and couldn't care less they gift me some extra based on performance. Past what's needed to survive and feel secure I don't perform for the money.

do you provide days/hours when they can do "their own thing" and perhaps showcase it later to get some "feeling of recognition"?

We have that and I now enjoy it but this have not always been the case. Now I'm more established in the company I can implement actually useful things during that time. Feeling of recognition comes from being actually useful and thanked for it, I don't perform for the show.

I'm looking for some concrete methods that have worked (either implemented as a manager or experienced as an employee) in what scenario and the reasoning behind them.

I was once told great managers are great listeners. The reasoning is that everyone have different needs and that you can't predict what. You could push your own premade solutions and be lucky but that's probably not what's the most effective.

You would listen by implementing retrospectives if you don't have any, 1 to 1 meetings if you don't have any. Then take into account all feedback to you of all the things that could be beneficial to employers well being that they will tell you about.

  • 1
    Added to the last bit: Any feedback given to you by your employees is valuable. I (have) know(n) managers that try to argue away feedback of mine. It's feedback, an opinion or a need. Not something that, as a manager, you can influence (maybe to a degree, but it will bite you in the arse) without (longterm) repurcussions. A great example is "I would like a faster computer" question getting "argued away" by "The one you have is not even a year old". To which I immediately think: "Yea, a year old on a tight budget, my home PC flies past this dung-heap". Never underestimate feedback of any kind
    – rkeet
    Feb 27, 2020 at 11:05

This question is the subject of many books and countless researches. There is no bullet proof solution, no magic wand. Usually there is a complex set of benefits which maximize the chances to achieve that goal.

Some ideas:

  • bigger salary;
  • additional benefits, translatable to money (company-sponsored activities, discounts, ...);
  • a non-conflictual work environment;
  • educated, proper managers (all levels);
  • interesting projects;
  • fair promotion strategy;
  • fair appraisals and evaluations; fair salary increases.

The list is long, and can continue. And there are people which might be against some of the points. What works in one place, might not work in another. Different people are motivated by different things.

Don't forget: people join companies and leave managers (use your favorite search engine to get more info). In these kinds of companies, the only way to keep employees long term is to fire the managers. And firing the managers is the first thing which will NOT happen, unfortunately.

I will try to answer the opposite too. What drives employees away.

  • lack of direction in the company;
  • unfair promotions, promotions of the totally incompetent;
  • totalitarian bosses;
  • the creation and promotion of interest groups - as in gangster groups, not as in technology-oriented groups; possibly based on family relationships or friendships;
  • insane / impossible quality-cost-time targets;
  • punishment-based culture;
  • threats always floating in the air;

and again, the list can continue for a long time.


There are many great answers in this thread, but what all of them are missing is the "atmosphere of trust" and vacation.

This atmosphere of trust, you might call it company culture, but for me this is more. In a place where I work (big IT company), colleagues are friends.

  • If you have an idea, you can talk about it with your colleagues and they help you improve it. If there is a problem, you can reach out to your manager who will take care of it. There is no toxic environment, no competition - instead there is trust and support.

  • We don't measure time spent at work, the management trusts us to work apx. 40 hours / week, and it works - sometimes you are working on something interesting and stay longer, sometimes it's Friday afternoon and you don't feel like starting a new task, so you go home.

  • If you need something work-related, just buy it and expense it to the company - whether an ergonomic chair, special post-it notes, USB hub for your laptop etc.

  • If you are sick, you just stay home and write a message to let your team know. You only need to go to the doctor for confirmation if you are staying at home for more than a couple of days (and this requirement doesn't really come from the company, but the government). We don't really have any "sick days", we just stay home not to make others sick and to get better ourselves, and we are expected not to abuse it.

This mutual trust (among colleagues as well as management) is something that's not very common in other companies, and it's a huge thing. I have new offers every week, but this work environment is really great to work in, so I keep turning them down.

Of course there are other things like very good salary, free coffee and fruit, premium healthcare (but we have universal healthcare in our country so this is not such a big deal), gym membership etc., but that's a basic requirement for me at this point, not something "extra" that would be keep me here.

One more huge thing is vacation. In our country 4 weeks of vacation is mandatory, but almost every company offers 5. However, we have extra vacation on top of that (birthday time off, wedding / funeral day of, 1 week time-to-give - charity work etc.). If your child gets sick or injured, you can stay at home to take care of them. Ever wanted to go travelling to Asia for two months (well maybe not now, but you see what I mean) - you just talk to your manager, get some unpaid time off on top of your standard vacation and go have a great time. This is what proper work-life balance looks like, and is another important thing to keep your employees happy and prevent them from burning out.

  • Thanks for your contribution. Totally agree with what you are saying. The only question here is: how to achieve the "mutual trust" you are mentioning. How to get people that are like that in the first place or to change the existing to work this way?
    – trainoasis
    Feb 27, 2020 at 11:41
  • Changing the existing culture will be difficult, but it should start with management. Be in touch with your employees, do 1:1 discussions (if time permits) every couple of weeks, where they can tell you freely and without any consequences what they like / don't like, use this also to find out what exactly they are working on. Open communication and honesty is important, but people might not be willing to speak freely in front of others or if they feel they will be reprimanded for it. Start from there, maybe you will find problems or suggestions that you never considered. Feb 27, 2020 at 12:59
  • As for hiring new people, team fit is really important. We have turned down experienced candidates, because we felt we wouldn't get along very well, and instead took in less experienced, but more social juniors. After all, learning a new programming language or technology is easy and takes a couple of days / weeks, changing one's behaviour not. Of course I understand that not everyone is in position to do this. Feb 27, 2020 at 12:59

This is not a complete answer, but from what I've observed it is the most likely reason for turnover, especially in juniors.

Do not force your employees to switch jobs to get the market rate

In general, if you are willing to offer X to hire someone with a certain experience and a certain position, make sure anyone currently working for you with the same experience and position gets paid at least as much. Many places only give regular raises to keep up with inflation, if that. If your employees can, without difficulty, get a raise switching jobs, they are likely to switch jobs.

There is a point where people will stop having salary raises as a primary motivator, but that point is highly personal and many people won't reveal how important it is to them. And if you are not giving raises the gap between their current salary and the market rate will keep growing until they simply decide it's easier to switch jobs than try to negotiate. Mainly because many times, the only way to actually "prove" what their market rate is is getting offers, and asking for a raise with an offer in hand is, at the very least, a bolder move than most people are confortable with.

I've seen this being a problem in companies undergoing a fast growth; raises are withold because all profit is being funneled to get new people in and in a couple years the whole thing collapses unto itself when you have a ton of people and not enough employees capable of forming the new hires.

  • 3
    For many people, the salary isn't what motivates them to work, but it's what motivates them to work for your company.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 29, 2020 at 15:05

For software developers, the things which matter:

  1. Being accountable for the delivery of the software, and having control over how the software is delivered.
  2. That's it. That's all that matters.

If you get these things right, everything else will fall into place, and you will have a happy, effective, high value team.

Software developers, on the whole, care about their work. They genuinely want the best outcomes for their customers, and will work hard to achieve them. Software developers, contrary to opinion, care about cost and timescales.

In order to get the best out of a software development team, the team need to be made accountable for the software delivery.

This means that they need to be encouraged to understand and own the customer's problems, and having understood and taken ownership of, be empowered to solve the problems in the most efficient and cost effective manner.

The more software developers take ownership and accountability of problems, and the more they are empowered to solve them, the cheaper, faster, and more efficient they will become.


At the risk of stating the obvious: Ask the people you wish to retain.

I recommend that because different people value different things. In fact, even the same person may come to value different things over time. And the best way to learn the actual needs of your individual contributors is to ask them. In addition to providing you with invaluable insight into what this person does or does not value, this also communicates that you care, which makes it more likely that they will approach you should they ever become unhappy, giving you an opportunity to fix problems before your employees even think of switching jobs.


For instance, years ago I was promoted to team lead under a new boss. A week before the move, my future boss visited my cubicle, and said:

Boss: Hi. I just learned that we'll be getting the 4th floor offices and was about to take a look to work out room assignments. Would you like to join me?

Me (pleasantly surprised to be consulted about seating arrangements): Sure!

Boss: I was thinking that the developers and you would share this room since it's the biggest one

Me: That's probably a good idea for the developers, but I work better if I have a room of my own. It doesn't have to be big, just quiet. Would the small room next door work?

Boss (hesitates): Actually, I was thinking I'd take that one for myself. Wouldn't it make it easier to lead your team if you sat with them?

Me: I don't think that'll be a problem. After all, I'd be right next door, and ...

Boss: Let me think on that. Meanwhile ...

Long story short: I got the room my boss had wanted, and he took a bigger one down the hall (he would have preferred to sit closer to the rest of the team, but felt honoring my preference more important). Needless to say, I was very happy with that arrangement, thankful to have been consulted, and awed that he'd give up his room for me.

But here's the thing: I know for a fact that other people in my place would have preferred the room assignment he originally proposed, because they would have felt lonely in an office of their own, or preferred to supervise their team more closely. Only because my boss consulted me before making a decision that affected how I'd be working, we were able to discover that a different arrangement would be more suitable.

Example 2

A couple years later, I was joining a new team, under yet another boss. First meeting with him was about the hardware to buy for us:

Boss: I was thinking that we'd use notebooks since we'll have to give many presentations. Obviously you'll need top of the line notebooks for your role, not the junk the IT department is usually peddling. I was thinking of this one (shows us the specs)

Coworker: That looks good. Could I have an US english keyboard layout instead of the german one? I find it more efficient for coding.

Boss: I don't see why not. But I probably can't order a unique device for every one of us. Would an US keyboard layout work for everyone?

Me: Sure. I'm a touch typist, I don't care how the keys are labeled.

I later learned that my coworker's first serious IT job had been an internship in the US, so he had learned to code on an US keyboard where all the special characters that see so abundant use in programming are on totally different keys. If he had to use a german keyboard, he'd either have to retrain, or relabel the keys himself, which would have been quite a waste of effort.

Our new boss only discovered this because he held a meeting about the hardware, and my new coworker felt confident in mentioning his special need. And I was impressed that my new boss would battle our standards loving internal IT department not just over the hardware specs, but over something as seemingly (but not actually) trivial as a keyboard layout.

How to discover the needs of your reports

  • consult your reports before making decisions that affect their work life
  • ask for their feedback in regular intervals to learn about changed needs. For instance, the boss of my boss invited each of his 90 indirect reports for a 15 minute chat every year.
  • show them that you take their feedback seriously (by acting on it, or informing them why you can not), so they see a point in sharing it


By identifying the actual needs of your individual employees, you can focus on providing what they value, without wasting effort and money on things they do not value.

To do that, ask your employees, not the internet!

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