Q: What are some good ways to retain my top employees?

A: For many of us, what is most important in a job changes as we age and go through different stages of life. Though some people remain stuck in the stage that measures a job solely in terms of salary and benefits, most of us evolve to the point where meaning and purpose become more important, assuming we are in the already privileged position of earning a living wage.

My colleagues and I identified six elements in our recent research that were central in considerations for employees to stay or leave a job.

Purpose. Employees find meaning in contributing to the greater good and being connected to something beyond themselves. Does each employee see how their job contributes to the larger business of your organization? Do you explain how your organization is contributing to good?

Trajectory. Employees find meaning as they develop and grow across their careers and lives. Does your culture reflect caring about each employee's goals for their careers and lives? Do human resource system decisions reflect this?

Relatedness. Employees find meaning in belonging at work in a way that honors human dignity. Does your culture reflect that it fosters warm, whole-person relationships? Do your leaders and managers value differences or reward only the employees who think like they do? Does your organization run like a community or family?

Expression, acceptance and differentiation of self. Employees find meaning expressing their full gifts authentically in a way that has impact, being valued positively for the unique differences they bring.

Does your culture intentionally make room for different and new ideas? Do leaders appreciate people for what they bring and their differing backgrounds? Is there room for employees to express their ideas and creativity?

We found that people often felt satisfied by some of these elements and dissatisfied by others. It is the balance, and the importance of each element, that determines whether any given employee stays or goes. The more of these human needs in work that you can satisfy, the more likely you are to have an engaged, committed workforce.

Teresa J. Rothausen is a professor of principled leadership and management in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.