The Key to Keeping Employees Happy

Figuring out what they want

The pandemic and the labor market’s ensuing Great Reset have created upheaval for employees, businesses and the economy. On the plus side, claims for unemployment benefits across the United States clocked in at 187,000 for the week ending March 19, according to the U.S. Labor Department—the lowest level since 1969. Professionals, however, are losing 10 hours per week on unproductive tasks, driving stress among nearly 80 percent of U.S. employees, according to, the intelligent calendar assistant and time management platform for Google Calendar used by over 9,000 companies worldwide.

“We’re living in a world of increasing demands, ever-shifting priorities and an unprecedented need for clear communication across teams, projects and organizations,” said Patrick Lightbody, CEO and co-founder of, in a statement released in late March 2022.

“We have to be happy at work,” Monica Siciliano, partner at De Novo HR Consulting told Advisors Magazine in a recent interview.

Monica Siciliano headshot“It’s where we spend the majority of our waking hours,” she added. “being happy at work and being a high producer are not mutually exclusive.”

Siciliano and Mark Zinman, managing partner, joined forces in 2015 and created the Southampton, Pennsylvania-based HR firm. De Novo HR Consulting takes a comprehensive approach to analyzing the needs of a business and its employees, and then provides strategic, client-centric services.

Zinman’s experience is in financial advising and accounting. Siciliano’s career has spanned from sales and marketing to human resources. Most of their business clients have fewer than 50 employees. Many are financial advice and money management/investment practices. Early on, Zinman found that HR was an especially important aspect of such businesses, as well as being critical in the area of compliance.

“But there really was no viable alternative for small businesses to obtain those kinds of HR services,” he said. “So, Monica and I developed a full-service HR company where we can use the expertise of the people we have, to provide services on an hourly basis to our clients.”

What’s more, financial services is an industry that reports higher job stress than others, according to Siciliano.

“As HR professionals we can help alleviate that mental burden in a few ways,” she commented. “First and foremost, we set aligned expectations of the team member or employee, their clients and the executive team.”

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She maintains that when there are aligned expectations, the fear of missing those expectations dissipates. Open and transparent communication is also vital.

“There are many different data points out there, but the general consensus is that around 70 percent of people in the financial services industry work remotely at least one day per week, if not more,” Siciliano said. “This is all the more reason why we want to set those expectations—so that when they are not in the same environment with their peers or with their supervisor, they know and are comfortable with executing upon what’s expected of them.”

Not surprisingly, the key HR questions that De Novo is fielding currently are related to recruitment and retention. There’s been a lot of attention on the ‘Great Reshuffle’.

“As employees are seeking remote work, and as employers are embracing a distributed workforce either exclusively or via a hybrid model, flexible hours have become increasingly required by employees, and employers are learning that this doesn’t hurt the business.”

She emphasized that this work-life integration is the key challenge for both employers and employees.

“We really start thinking about these factors during the recruitment process,” Siciliano added, “because our belief is that the employee experience starts during candidacy.”

She noted that such engagement can even continue after employment. Should a previous employee move on to alumnus status, they can still be a brand ambassador for their previous company.

It all boils down to employee happiness—and employers being able to get a handle on what makes them happy. In short, the business needs to know what the employee wants, and not everyone wants the same things.

Toward this end, De Novo advocates for something called the stay interview.

“Every six months,” Siciliano said. “all employees on the team are offered a stay interview. It allows us to find out what they want in their career development action plan, where they see themselves going professionally over the course of the next several years, and how to help them get there.”

Siciliano puts the emphasis on the word action. “It’s not just a career development plan, it’s an ACTION plan,” she said. “How do we actually implement—step-by-step—what we say we will do to help our employees grow?”

It’s up to the employer then to provide the opportunities and the mentoring for the employee to fulfill their goal. “For example, if someone aspires to be a manager, the employer should know that ahead of time and help them chart a career path,” she added.

Mark Zinman headshotZinman points out that accounting and financial service advisory firms suffered the same as most other businesses during the pandemic—coping with an abrupt change in their ability to function and adopting new ways to run their businesses. Whether working entirely remotely or in some hybrid arrangement presents similar challenges.

“Remote work can make an employee start to lose touch with their peers and other coworkers,” Siciliano explained. “And some employees may start to feel socially isolated.”

She said it’s important for executive management to support the employees’ needs while maintaining a strong and positive culture that expands the work environment into home offices.

“That requires some very different management techniques,” Siciliano said. “Regular and more frequent communication might be needed. Also very helpful are real-time reviews, real-time performance evaluations, as opposed to the more traditional, quarterly, semi-annual or annual reviews.”

Another key HR topic for management nowadays is diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI.

“A lot of companies are realizing the importance of DE&I and the financial services industry is among them,” Siciliano acknowledged. “I believe recent data indicates that about a third of C-level executives in the financial sector are female, so the industry remains one that skews male. Through awareness, acknowledgement, and training, we can incorporate DE&I initiatives into the workplace, attracting a more diverse candidate plus increasing revenue by attracting new and diverse clients.”

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