How key staff are worth more than their salary

Alexander Ford
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Beyond the figures: How key staff are worth more than their salary payment


As accountants and business managers, we measure our employee’s value to our business in monetary terms. Our financial reports tell us how much we pay for salaries, and when we dig down further, our sales reports can tell us specifically who is earning us cash and how much. We pay our support staff the wages dictated by the market, always ensuring that one unit of production makes as much profit as possible. But do we really know how much overall value our key employees add to our business? If we do, how much do we pay attention to keeping them ‘key?’

At management level, we often make judgements as to which staff members perform their jobs well. We also judge who is hard-working and dedicated: prepared to work extra hours when the business needs additional support to complete a task. Our key employees will ideally fit into both categories: earning their salary by completing tasks quickly and efficiently, whilst always being prepared to stay behind after hours if something else needs doing. These employees are worth more than just monetary value; losing them seriously affects your business’ chance of success.

Startling statistics and disengagement

According to a 2012 Forbes article, less than one third of employees are actively engaged at work and 60% are actively looking for work elsewhere. These concerning statistics are enough to make anyone sit up and take note – it makes us question how we operate efficiently at all. 

Somewhere within these statistics are key members of staff. If we can get them operating at 100% efficiency and engagement (or at least 75%), it is good for them and the business. Perhaps others around them will also become more engaged, working hard through choice or simply momentum. The question really is, how we can spot employee disengagement, and how we stop them looking for jobs elsewhere. The first step, is to look out for signs.

One of the reasons that employees become disengaged, is because they do not feel valued within their workplace. Many things could lead to this – perhaps they are paid a low wage or treated without respect? When things are going badly, we often lay blame on the people who have not followed our instructions, but what happens when they go well? Do we shower them with praise, telling them how important they are? 

Another reason for disengagement, is when staff feel they have been kept in the dark. When making a decision about something which affects our staff directly, do we take the time to consult them – asking for their advice? Have we fully explained the reasons for making that decision, allowing them to understand why it is happening? 

One of the signs that suggest your workforce is unhappy and looking for work elsewhere, is when you notice that an unresolved conflict has been brushed aside and is no longer discussed. Have you ever wondered why employees are no longer arguing? Or what might have been said to resolve the conflict? Employees ‘giving up’ is unproductive for various reasons. They might have lost interest and passion – just accepting things as they are because they work for a company unable to satisfactorily resolve problems. They might be looking for other work; operating at a lower productivity rate whilst they do. Assuming that things are now back to the way they were is detrimental to their and the company’s future.

Other smaller signs can also give away an employee’s desire to leave. They might keep booking off half day holidays, or appearing for work smartly dressed when they didn’t beforehand. These are two tell-tale signs that your employees are booked in for interviews elsewhere. Another, more explicit sign that your employee is looking to leave, is if you catch them online, looking for jobs. This could be noticed when looking at their internet history, or you might simply catch them in the act. Dealing with this aggressively will not resolve the issue, and might push them further away. Try to find out what is causing them to look elsewhere.

Regaining commitment

There is no doubt that an engaged workforce is a productive (and often happy) workforce. If you have doubts that your employees are engaged, there are things that you can do to address this and recover their levels of productivity. After all, they went from engaged to disengaged; surely the process is reversible? 

  • Appreciate your staff

Everybody (you included) needs to feel appreciated. Without feeling appreciated, it can feel like you have no purpose and therefore there is no point in carrying on with what you are doing. That is one of the main reasons why people look elsewhere – to find someone who does appreciate them. Not only is this true of work, but in relationships elsewhere. Take the time to tell your staff that they are doing a good job. Send a thank you email, once every so often. You don’t have to do it too regularly (that can be counter-productive), but do it enough for your staff to know they are appreciated.

  • Transparency

Although organising a spontaneous office party is often met with delight, not all surprise decisions are. Tell them what you are doing for the company’s future, good or bad. Let them in a little. Sure, there will be certain confidential plans that you are unable to tell, but remember that your staff like to be kept abreast of business operations.

  • Get their input

This links with feeling valued – staff love to tell you their ideas for the company’s future. Even if you decide not to go ahead with their suggestions, at least give them a forum in which to tell you their ideas – some of them might even be good? Furthermore, ask them about how you are doing as an employer – anonymous surveys are a great way of getting honest feedback. Set up lunchtime meetings that involve a range of employees from different departments (including the senior managers). Some of the most creative ideas occur during these informal events. 

  • Culture

When you put the company’s culture first, you cover a range of methods to regain commitment. You are providing your employees with a place that they can enjoy working, and feel loved and valued all at the same time. An open culture enables staff to feel comfortable providing ideas and feedback to all levels of the business, helping you operate efficiently and removing any problems as and when they arise. Company culture can be improved by having weekly pub-clubs, Christmas parties, free fruit, water, massages, anything that you are prepared to provide them with. Make your company a place where your staff feel comfortable and enjoy coming to work.

  • Nurture them

Some of the most popular key employees are ones which started working at grassroots level and have worked their way up. Everybody loves an underdog, and giving someone the resources to grow from the bottom to the top feels incredibly rewarding. It sets the precedent for other employees to think, “if they can do it, so can I!” 

Investing in training is one way of nurturing your employees, and it can also fix them into longer-term contracts if you ask them to sign a ‘golden handshake’ whereby they remain at the company for a minimum of 12 months (or longer) after they have completed training. Allowing them to grow through your company will also give you a good reputation; encouraging others to work for an organisation where they could grow for themselves and fulfil their potential. 

Key employees

After an employee has worked with you for a while, you are able to tell whether they are (or will become) a key member of staff. These are the people that you just cannot do without. When you have key employees, everyone’s job becomes more focused, engaged and straight forward. Everyone is on board with what is expected of them, and the dynamic personality of your key employees drives everyone towards the same goals.

Having identified your key employees, you should now think about ways of keeping them happy so that they remain loyal to your organisation. One way is to give them ‘relevant life insurance’ – a policy which pays their family if they pass away; there is also an option for ‘critical illness’ to be covered. Insuring them in this way shows that they are valued, and it will be easier to retain their services.

Beyond the balance sheet

The next time that you are entering wages on any of your financial reports, consider what the true value of that member of staff is. I would argue that it is impossible to put a figure against someone’s actual value; how can you possibly know what they affect in terms of sales and the performance of other members of staff? Whilst this may never be possible to calculate, one thing is for sure: a happy, engaged and productive workforce is one where everyone feels valued and part of the organisation’s bigger picture. However you achieve this, make sure that you identify your key employees early on and take steps to keep them at your organisation before it is too late.

About Alexander Ford

About Alexander Ford

I have been working in business insurance for 10 years, and throughout that time, I have addressed the business and insurance needs of over 100 companies operating in a variety of industries. Although I work in the insurance sector, my job title could be classified as a combination of consultant, researcher and analyst.

I enjoy finding out about how different businesses operate, and what makes them successful; more often than not, it is the way in which they treat their key members of staff. My research has given me the knowledge to provide a consultancy service to employers, helping them to get the best from their employees, whilst advising them on the best types of insurance to help prepare them for the future.
My passion to help businesses all around the world has inspired me to write articles that give genuine general business and insurance advice, through years of research and experience.


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