Understanding How Employees Define ‘Success’ Vital in Managing

How do you define “success?”

To different people, it could mean different things. For example, someone with a family might aim to spend more time with their children, whereas someone living alone might put in more time at work. By measuring ideas of personal and professional success, one can see how the importance of home and work compare.

Moreover, understanding these goals could help managers better understand the decisions their employees make.

According to a March 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review that profiled a five-year study of more than 4,000 executives, “prospering in the senior ranks is a matter of carefully combining work and home so as not to lose themselves, their loved ones, or their foothold on success. Those who do this most effectively involve their families in work decisions and activities.”

Professional success especially showed differences between the sexes, according to the study. When asked what professional success means, individual success was a factor for nearly half (46 percent) of the women but for only a quarter (24 percent) of the men. Having respect from others was meaningful to 25 percent of women but only 7 percent of men. Passion for their work was important to 21 percent of women but only 5 percent of men.

In regards to personal success, an equal percentage of men and women (17 percent) indicated that success includes happiness and enjoyment in their work. Work-life balance was also a factor in definitions of success to both genders: 13 percent of women and 12 percent of men reported this as a factor of personal success.

Also, men value financial success more then women, the study showed. Professional success included financial success to only 4 percent of women polled but was a factor for 16 percent of the men. 

Overall, this study shows that people define success differently. To encourage workers to reach their desired potential, managers could sit down with employees to discuss individual ideas of success.

A plan could be drawn up that acts as a guide to reaching individualized goals. If this information could be shared with others, ideas of success could be discussed as a group, opening a dialogue between employees and managers. By having an idea of how individuals define success, employees can understand how each team member prioritizes factors of his or her life.