Here are eight of the benefits employees most want.
1. Being able to use vacation time without guilt. Too many employees don't take all the vacation time they earn, either because they can't get time off approved or because their manager and workplace culture signal – subtly or not so subtly – that if they take time off, they'll be seen as a slacker. As a result, employees often discover that the vacation package that looked so generous when they were being hired is just a mirage.
2. Being able to use sick time without having to prove you're sick. Instead of treating employees as adults, some companies require employees to present proof of illness when they need to take a sick day. Having to go to the doctor's office when you have a cold just so that you can get a doctor's note to show your employer is insulting – and it also drives up health care costs by pushing people into doctors' offices when they really just need rest and over-the-counter medicine. It also encourages people to come to work sick, since sometimes that's easier than getting a doctor's appointment just to obtain a note.
3. Being allowed to telecommute when the work allows it. While many companies are ramping up their use of telecommuting, plenty still won't consider it at all, even for employees whose jobs could easily be done from home. Companies that allow telecommuting – particularly when a staff member is slightly under the weather but can still work, or when someone needs to wait at home for a repair person or delivery – go a long way toward earning employees' loyalty.
4. Professional development and training. As the economy has pushed companies to try to do more than less, budgets for training and development have taken a major hit. As a result, employees are often expected to produce results without getting much (or any) training – and in many cases, you can forget about professional development opportunities like outside classes and workshops.
5. Flexible schedules. Forget the old 9-to-5 standard schedule. Increasingly, workers are looking for flexibility to more easily juggle work and home – and some employers are responding by allowing good workers to work nontraditional schedules like 7-to-3 or 8-to-4 so they can be at home with kids in the afternoon or go to school in the early evening. Allowing workers to choose their own schedules, within reason, and under the condition that their work is performed at a high level, is a key way to attract and retain strong performers. Often the workers attracted to this are at a place in their careers where they'd pick flexibility over a raise or promotion.
6. Meaningful roles with real responsibility. Employees who are able to have a real impact on the organization's success and who "own" their areas and the successes or failures within them are more likely to feel satisfied with their work – and to stay focused on the challenges in front of them rather than seeking out new challenges somewhere else.
7. Open appreciation. Employers often underestimate the impact of simply making sure that great employees hear regularly that they're valued. Managers who let good employees know that they see their accomplishments and value what they're contributing are more likely to have employees who stay.
8. Good management. Nothing drives employees away faster than bad management behaviors, like yelling, creating a climate of fear or letting serious problems go unresolved. Managers have a pervasive impact on employees' day-to-day work environment, and an employee's relationship with her direct supervisor is one of the factors that most strongly influences job satisfaction. No matter how much a staff member likes her job or her company, if she has a bad relationship with her manager, it will seep into her quality of life every day and eventually drive her in search of something else.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.