Fact or Fiction: Star Employees Want Promotions

A common concern among prospective employees is whether there are opportunities to grow within a company. A company’s star employees are not necessarily those who try to climb the corporate ladder.  Those who focus on their existing responsibilities, proving themselves as assets, are most likely the employees a company cannot afford to lose. Organizations that reward primarily through promotion may spur unhealthy competition between co-workers, and one-track mindedness.  Instead of competing over resources to get ahead, employers should encourage employees to strive for excellence in the role that they currently occupy. 

The Downside of Giving a Star Employee a Promotion

There are several caveats to promoting star employees out of their roles:

  • Potential to stir-up competition between workers fighting for limited top promotions/positions
  • Eliminate learning opportunities for new employees
  • Reduce overall performance and productivity by “uprooting” achievers

In fact, research by Gallup confirms that many employees would prefer being paid more for good performance. Fifty-eight percent of employed adults would prefer to remain in their jobs if they could make more, and produce a better result, rather then getting a promotion. Furthermore, a survey completed by 3853 employees from the University of Minnesota Campus found over 50% of respondents reported low satisfaction with job promotions. After all, a promotion and an increase in salary, often comes with the responsibility of three or more people.  Simultaneously frustration of coworkers, who were bypassed for the promotion, and the expectation to maintain and exceed his or her previously high performance, can be intimidating inhibitors.

Alternative Sources of Employee Motivation

Rather than motivating workers by offering promotions, the focus has shifted to making work interesting, challenging, or a broader scope.  A star employee is someone who consistently improves products, services, processes, and customer relations. To ensure these MVPs are stimulated; job tasks, work goals, and structure should allow for freedom, innovation, and the opportunity to grow in their existing position.

It is essential for supervisors to recognize talent, at every level, and provide them with challenges, diverse opportunities, and the ability to prove who they are and what they can do.  Many employees do not want to be shuffled around from one job to the next, they want to succeed and have a sense of accomplishment in a job.  Sometimes shuffling from one job to the next or being promoted can cut into time outside of work.  A survey by careerbuilders.com (2007) found that 38% of working father would take a pay cut or pass up a promotion for better work-life balance and spending more time with their children.

The Merits of Incentive-Based Compensation

So how do you maintain compensation that prevents from star employees from being poached by talent raiders? These individuals get a sense of accomplishment by planning, initiating, and executing projects. Therefore, compensation and reward structures should focus on incentive-based pay and rewards, rather than transitions and promotions.

Research completed by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith (2006) supports the idea that promotions are not the only thing MVPs want. They need to exercise thinking by providing good leadership, and expanding job roles.  More and more people are finding intrinsic rewards like personal achievement, validation of worth, increased responsibility, and opportunity for personal growth to be more beneficial to them overall. This can be a main determining factor in whether they stay or exit a company.  The take away – dollar signs and a more prestigious title are not as enticing as they once were.  They have become secondary to humanistic rewards, such as someone peer or community recognition.  

How to Retain Star Employees

Think about someone you know who has been in their job for 10, 20 or 30 years.  What is the number one reason they stayed?  It probably is not the pay. If you ask they often say, the challenging work, opportunities, people they work with, etc… these are their priorities. So don’t move your best employees up and, perhaps, out – ask them what they want.  Then, provide it to them through work that is both stimulating and engaging.  If you can’t provide, be sure to let them know why, and when you might be able to provide this or other things you can do.  Communicate their value to the organization.  In doing so, star employees are more likely to stay long-term.

For tips on retaining star employees, email [email protected]

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