It is easy to understand why companies have focused on…pay, parking, cafeteria discounts, et cetera…[Because it’s easy to tinker with those variables…But] these factors do not really make a difference to the best, most productive employees and work groups, and they don’t explain job satisfaction.

– Gallup, in Management Journal

So What Does? Gallup’s research led to a list of “dimensions” characterizing great workplaces. Here’s a rundown on six of them.

1) Clear Expectations

Naturally, employees want to know what you want them to do, so that they can rest assured they are doing their jobs, and are not about to be shown the door.

Clear job descriptions are therefore critical for all workplaces. However, too much detail risks conveying that you expect employees to act like robots. Instead, allow room for individual initiative and creativity. Also, pull employees into the process of keeping the job description up to date.

2) Materials and Equipment

While it’s obvious that employees need certain resources to get the job done, simply providing them on-demand can be counterproductive — even when cost is not an issue.

Rather, pursue a dialog beginning with the question: “How will this new [tool or piece of equipment] help you as an employee, our company, and our customers?”

Doing so, according to Gallup, “broadens the perspective of the employee” and “also takes the manager out of the traditional ‘parent’ role and allows for true ownership and accountability.”

3) Alignment of Talents with Jobs

“Full human potential is only realized when people are in a position to use their greatest talents,” Gallup states.

That doesn’t happen when employees consider themselves overqualified for their jobs — or are considered to be so by their supervisor. In both cases, employees’ skills may not be fully tapped due to a limited understanding of all the contributions employees can make — even in “low-level” jobs.

To gauge the situation, ask employees whether they agree with the statement: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

When the response is “no,” it’s time to rethink the job, or the employee’s suitability for that position. “A manager’s job is not to make people grow talents they do not have, but to identify and use their existing talents to their fullest potential,” reports Gallup.

4) Recognition or Praise

Everyone needs a pat on the back from time to time. In great workplaces, this happens often. Yet many employers unwittingly convey the message: “If you don’t hear from me, it means you’re doing a good job.”

According to Gallup, “effective” recognition “is positive in nature, immediately connected to performance, specific about what is being praised, and close to the action.”

Keep in mind that recognition from peers is often just as gratifying to workers as praise from supervisors. Peer recognition programs can address that need.

5) Care from Supervisors

The best managers “genuinely care about the people they work with” and “find a true sense of satisfaction when their employees grow and succeed, even if the employee’s success surpasses that of the manager,” Gallup’s research suggests.

Employees are willing to make sacrifices and act conscientiously under the supervision of such bosses and, generally, are not under managers whom they perceive to lack genuine care for them.

6) Encouragement

Under the traditional paradigm, employees are trained to overcome particular skill deficits. While often necessary, this approach emphasizes: “Who the employee is not, rather than who the employee is,” according to Gallup.

The consequence: management’s “constant determination to change something about the employee” becomes the dominant (and negative) theme in the employment relationship.

This can occur even as employees remain acutely aware of the need to be constantly building skills to remain employable – if not where they currently work, then anywhere else.

In this environment, development should “hold up a mirror to employees and encourage them to know themselves…Then, as employees move forward in their self-knowledge, great managers persist in looking for opportunities to make the best use of employees’ talents.”