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Lead Your Team Managing

Pat on the Back: How to Retain Skilled Workers

Pat on the Back: How to Retain Skilled Workers
Credit: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

While money matters to top employees, not getting enough recognition for their hard work, more so than wanting a bigger paycheck, is what's likely to send them looking for a new job, new research finds.

The study from Korn Ferry revealed that highly skilled professionals such as engineers, researchers, IT developers and specialized physicians value recognition and meaningful work more than high salaries.

Specifically, more than half of the highly skilled employees surveyed said the top reason they would leave their current employer is their organization's unwillingness to recognize the value of their expertise. [Want to show your employees some appreciation? Here are 10 creative days to do so]

"All too often, employers don't see the true value of these highly skilled employees until they leave, at times taking with them the knowledge and intellectual property that makes the organization successful," said Cori Hill, Korn Ferry lead for high potential development, in a statement. "To retain members of this group, employers should offer them opportunities to continue to learn, to gain recognition by sharing their expertise across the organization, and resist micromanaging their day-to-day efforts."

The research shows that being able to work in a job that offers them an opportunity to perform consequential and worthwhile work is what most of the highly skilled professionals desire. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said the promise of meaningful work is what would sway their decision most on where to work. Just 4 percent said better compensation is the top reason they would pick to work for one organization over another.

"It's important to understand that highly skilled professionals still want to be compensated fairly, but they see pay as table stakes," said Hill. "They are more connected to the work than the paycheck, and focus on the outcomes of their efforts."

While being able to climb the corporate ladder is what matters most to some professionals, it isn't what highly skilled employees value in their jobs. The study found that 49 percent of those surveyed said being recognized as subject-matter experts is what they value most in a job, with 42 percent saying it's the ability to grow their professional skills. Only 7 percent of highly skilled professionals said a promotion was what matters to them most, with just 2 percent saying it was getting a raise.

"Professional development and opportunities to hone their skills are real drivers for highly skilled employees," Hill said. "One idea organizations could implement is to form a focus group of these professionals to formulate development paths that would provide true impact."

More than three-quarters of those surveyed said there isn't a clear path for advancement for highly skilled professionals, while 78 percent said their organization does not have a way to reward them other than a raise or promotion.

The study's authors believe employers would be wise to not put all of their attention into trying to bring in employees with high potential.

“Too often organizations spend most of their efforts on attracting and developing high-potential talent – those employees they see as future leaders – at the expense of investments in highly skilled professionals and individual contributors," Hill said. "Highly skilled professionals are the backbone of organizations, the star performers, the 'Steady Freddys' who keep companies running day in and day out."

The study was based on surveys of 992 professionals and executives.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.