Home Management What do you Mean I Can’t Give Everyone a 20 Percent Raise?
What do you Mean I Can’t Give Everyone a 20 Percent Raise?

What do you Mean I Can’t Give Everyone a 20 Percent Raise?


By Heather Cunningham, Senior Director of Admissions, Sullivan University

As many institutions face staff reductions due to the decline of enrollment, many employees are being asked to take on additional responsibilities with added stress. While the unemployment rate remains low, retaining staff must be a focus. With budgets continuing to tighten, managers must get creative in finding ways to engage and retain their employees when we find ourselves asking, “What do you mean I can’t give everyone a 20 percent raise?”

The exact cost of turnover is hard to quantify, but according to research, it costs 33 percent of an employee’s salary to rehire the position. (Otto, 2017) In addition to finding a replacement, there are several other factors of turnover that are a bit harder to quantify. Institutional knowledge is at times invaluable. When someone leaves, it can sometimes cause a domino effect when others consider that the grass might be greener on the other side. Once a replacement has been found, top talent often has to be taken away from their tasks to get a new employee up and running. The most important thing about turnover is that 75 percent of it is preventable. (Otto, 2017)

In order to prevent turnover, we must first understand the reasons why people stay and why they leave. Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

Many people confuse employee engagement with employee happiness and employee satisfaction. These are not interchangeable.

Happiness does not always equal productivity and satisfaction does not always mean going the extra mile. Engaged employees are more likely to perform, be bought in, go the extra mile and stay. Easy, right? Not so much. According to Gallup, 51 percent of U.S. employees are not engaged and have not been for quite some time. (Gallup, Inc.) Engaged employees are less likely to have turnover, absenteeism and safety incidents compared to those rates of disengaged employees. (Gallup, Inc.)

The good news is that there are many factors that influence employee engagement and in order to understand how to motivate and retain employees, we must understand what can move an employee from engaged to disengaged or vice versa. A study by Dale Carnegie tells us that an employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor is a huge factor in employee engagement. (Carnegie, 2018) Many people can overthink this. While it is important to maintain that professional line, it is also important to know who our people really are. One thing to always keep in mind is that employee engagement and motivation is not a one size fits all! What makes them tick? Are they internally or externally motivated? Are they motivated by pleasure or pain? In other words, are they motivated by fear or goals? This could impact how you go about even assigning a simple task. A struggle for many managers is to find this information out. Here is a tip: ask! Create an informal questionnaire for your employees and ask them a few simple questions. Here are some examples:

  1. How do you like to be recognized for your achievements?
  2. How do you like to be coached if you are not meeting expectations?
  3. What’s something that is true for you that you don’t think true for anyone else on the team?

Make it fun. Ask them their birthday and their favorite birthday treat and then go put it on your calendar! It does not just have to be in written form either, have one-on-one meetings with your employees and just ask them about themselves. Don’t think that by asking questions that you are getting too personal. We often spend more time with our co-workers than we do our own family members, so it is important we know who they are. By knowing these things, we can also find what will empower them to do more for your organization while also allowing personal development, which is a factor in engagement.

Do you know how your people like to be recognized? While some people would prefer you scream their accomplishments from the rooftops, others might prefer a simple thank you behind closed doors. It’s not only important that we ask and find out these types of things, but that we remember it and use it when the times comes. What’s the point in someone telling you they don’t like to be celebrated in front of others for you to then go call them out in the team meeting?

The larger the team, the more difficult this gets, but no one is the same and we must understand their differences to truly know what will keep them engaged.

Think back to the last time you interviewed someone. A question often asked is, how do you want to be managed? Bets are they said they did not want to be micromanaged. Another factor in employee engagement is the ability for self-management and flexibility. While we may not have the luxury of offering a full bar or bringing your pet to work, there are creative ways to ensure that your employees have options. As technology improves, is offering a work from home day out of the question? While we want to be fair managers, it does not mean that all employees should have this option, but for those that can, it conveys that you trust them which is another importance influencer. There are many ways that we can offer flexibility to our employees through adjusted schedules, dress down days, or just being understanding when something comes up in their personal life that is out of their control.

While it is rare to find someone who prefers to be micromanaged, this does not mean that they do not want to be managed. Another factor that influences employee engagement is giving consistent feedback. Whether it be positive or negative, it should be constructive. One of the worst things an organization can do is to only have an annual evaluation as a means for feedback. People want to know where they stand and how they can improve before they ever get into an evaluation. Often managers get so caught up in the paperwork and reports that they run out of time to do what they should be doing the most. Spending time with their people and making them better.

Another factor of engagement is the atmosphere and environment of the office. Is there a feeling of team camaraderie and support, or are people pitted against each other? There are many ways to bring teams together that are little to no cost. Outside of the normal teambuilding events, a monthly or quarterly potluck or everyone pitching in a dollar or two to get pizza, allows time away from work to get to know each other better and form relationships that are so important, especially when times get stressful. There is some random “holiday” every day, pick one to celebrate with your team whether it be National Donut Day or National Hotdog Day. Sure, some people might find it cheesy, but others might just appreciate that you are trying.

The good news is that in speaking to hundreds of people from all generations, when asked what one thing motivates them the most, the majority said the same thing: a simple, genuine, thank you.

The most important part of a thank you is the why behind it. Don’t just tell someone thank you or they did a great job, let them know why you appreciate them and if you can use a character trait they exhibit, it makes it even more impactful. For example, “John, great job on that report today. Your attention to detail is admirable, and I really appreciate you always going that extra mile.” Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to do this every time John turns in a report, but make sure it is meaningful and specific to him. With the invention of email and text messages, gone are the days of the handwritten letter. Taking a few minutes to write a note of appreciation means so much. It is also great to walk around and see that those notes do not get tucked away in a drawer but are often on display in a prominent place on their desk that they can continue to see. It also means a lot when they hear positive things from upper management. They may hear from their direct supervisor a lot, but to hear from someone that does not interact with them daily can be additional motivation as well as more credibility for the direct supervisor as it shows we speak highly of our people.

While there are more factors that influence employee engagement, the most important thing to always keep in mind is that employee engagement and motivation is not a one size fits all. Your employees are already motivated, you just must figure out how to unleash it.


Otto, N. (2017, August 09). Avoidable turnover costing employers big. Retrieved March 01, 2018 from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/avoidable-turnover-costing-employers-big?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000&utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=ebnmagazine&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social

Gallup, Inc. (n.d.). State of the American Workplace. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/reports/199961/7.aspx

Dale Carnegie Research Institute. (2018) Employee Engagement White Paper Managers Matter: A Relationship-Centered Approach to Engagement

Heather Cunningham

HEATHER CUNNINGHAM currently serves as the Senior Director of Admissions for Sullivan University which has campuses in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, an extension in Fort Knox, Kentucky and learning centers in Carlisle, Louisa and Mayfield, Kentucky. She has worked for Sullivan University for the past eight years and has a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Evansville and an MBA from Sullivan University. Heather is also a certified Dale Carnegie trainer where she is endorsed to lead both communication and management training courses. She has a passion for employee engagement and presented on this topic at this past year’s CECU annual conference in Orlando. She resides in Jeffersonville, Indiana with her husband Brad and their dog Lola.

Contact Information: Heather Cunningham // Senior Director of Admissions // Sullivan University // 502-413-8545 // hcunningham@sullivan.edu // sullivan.edu // www.linkedin.com/in/heatherwilsoncunningham


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