Retaining employees, especially high performers, is no easy task, a key leadership skill more crucial than ever with today's war for talent raging on. Makes you wish you had a crystal ball, no?

I give you the next best thing.

Data. Rather, new research; a 2000 office worker study commissioned by ServiceNow to determine what workers really want from work. One question in the study was particularly powerful and telling: "How likely are you to actually ask your boss for the following ... "

The likelihood percentages might surprise you:

  • More meaningful work: 61 percent
  • New tech equipment: 57 percent
  • Better work-life balance: 48 percent
  • No more IT issues: 43 percent
  • No more internet outages: 40 percent
  • A raise: 34 percent

Here's what the data tells us.

1. Nearly twice as many employees want to ask for meaningful work than ask for a raise. 

The study also showed 52 percent of employees would be willing to take a pay cut to get that meaningful work.

As I detail in my book, Make It Matter, meaning is derived in and at work when you can identify the purpose behind the work and the legacy you want to leave through your work. Meaning flows when you find yourself learning and growing, when you feel a sense of competency and elevated self-esteem, when you're working with a generous amount of autonomy, and when you work in a caring, authentic, teamwork-based environment.

Leaders and employees who foster such conditions (or ask for them) find much more meaning and fulfillment in their work.

2. Tech has a dark side, too.

We all like that shiny new iPhone or laptop. On the other side of the coin, most of us would rather binge watch Yentl 5,000 times in a row than have to fix the copier or get on the phone with IT to stop your computer from giving you the blue screen of death. 

There's nothing wrong with embracing tech in your workplace, of course. Two things are critical on this front.

First, that you don't get overzealous with introducing new tech applications supposedly meant to help--research from Ring Central shows it can have a bigtime counterproductive effect.  

Second, pay attention to what employees are going through on the tech/IT front. People abhor tech-related issues, so review the pain points and delight points on this front and do something about the former and facilitate more of the latter.

I once worked for a manager who was well aware of rampant IT problems her people were having (outdated copiers that frequently broke down, slow and outmoded desktops, travel expense systems with super-buggy software, etc.). She felt it was the cost of doing business and repeatedly said: "We all have bigger fish to fry." Come employee survey time, the employees fried her, with dissatisfaction rates through the roof despite a great year sales- and profit-wise.

Don't underestimate the damage done by turning a shoulder to something as basic as ensuring your employees are supported with an environment that drives, not drains, productivity.

3. Better work-life balance is the new corner office.

Almost half want better work-life balance, to the point they'd take on the risk of actually asking their boss for it. Frankly, I was surprised the number wasn't higher. Heck, even Elon Musk is suffering from an out-of-whack work to chill-and-drive-my-Roadster ratio.

Achieving better work-life harmony requires a SPECIFIC plan:

Simplification: Simplify wherever you can, not complexify (and be brutal about it).

Productivity self-audits: Pinpoint unproductive behaviors that drain time and energy, stop them, repeat.

Energy-renewing activities: Engage more often in things that give you energy.

Choices: Base more of them on the kind of life you want to lead and what's most important to you.

In touch: Be self-aware when the balance is spinning out of control.

Flexibility: If you're a leader, grant flexibility in how work gets done. If you're an employee, ask for it.

Involve others: Work-life harmony is a tall task. Enroll family, friends, and co-workers to help.

Commit: Work-life harmony must become a priority--no other goal has more barriers.

So before the next review, be ready to give your employees what they really want. It sure beats a lame gift card.