What do employees want?


For several years, we’ve been hearing a lot about the importance of purpose, diversity and inclusion, as well as other environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations to new generations of workers.

Strong anecdotal evidence suggested that people were turning their backs on higher salaries in favour of working for companies which aligned to their values in these areas.

But the empirical evidence appears to suggest otherwise.

A number of recent studies – some carried out even before the cost-of-living crisis really started to bite – point to salary and benefits remaining the top priority for job changers in Europe and around the world.

Higher pay wins

Research carried out by Indeed and Glassdoor using a database of millions of employee reviews, salaries, and conversations globally, reveals that higher pay is by far the top priority for employees deciding to look for a new job.

The research covered the period from July 2021 to February 2022, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its knock-on impacts on energy prices, inflation, and interest rates.

Higher pay was the number one consideration for almost one third of candidates. Changing career paths came in a distant second, the top priority for around 15 per cent of candidates, and remote work and greater flexibility came in third and fourth.

These findings were echoed in another piece of research produced by LinkedIn covering 14 countries across the world including the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy through to August 2022.

A desire for excellent compensation and benefits was ranked number one by candidates, followed by support to balance work and personal life, the availability of flexible work arrangements, opportunities to upskill, and opportunities for career growth within the company.

The lower priority given to career advancement probably reflects the timing of the research.

By August 2022, the global slowdown and the cost-of-living crisis had begun to bite and people were starting to focus on money and other benefits while putting career advancement on the back burner.

Interestingly, job security came in at number seven – ahead of happiness at number eight, while the much-vaunted values of mission and diversity were near the very bottom of the list at 13th and 14th respectively.

Career development and flexibility still valued

The results of a study published by Adecco in January 2022 appear to confirm that time has indeed turned the tables.

The research covered ten countries across Europe, Asia and Latin America, and gathered the views of more than a thousand workers at 155 companies.

Once more, salary was ranked as the top consideration, but career development was ranked relatively highly in third position – again, before the inflation spiral and cost of living crisis took hold.

Flexibility was highly valued by employees in the UK, Germany and the US, where 22 per cent of workers said they valued the option to work full-time at home, compared to a global average of just 9 per cent. Women were more likely than men to rank flexibility as a major factor.

There were some other interesting variations. Workers in France and Belgium were much more likely to prioritise salary, while those in Italy placed slightly greater weight on career development.

Gen Z and Gen Y workers were more likely to be attracted by salary, while older generations focused more on the content of the job and workplace atmosphere. That last finding is relatively unsurprising given that older workers are likely to be more advanced in their careers and already earning high salaries.

Paid overtime and added benefits help

HR and payroll company Remote carried out a survey of 10,000 full-time workers in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the US earlier this year to find out which employee benefits are most valued.

The research excluded salary and focused on benefits but even then, the most sought-after benefit by UK workers was paid overtime.

Other perks with a clear financial value also ranked highly, such as a four day week for the same salary as five, employer-sponsored occupational pension schemes, and paid health insurance.

It would appear from these studies that considerations like purpose and positive social impact have been overhyped, at least to a degree.

The top priorities for employees on the move are salaries and benefits, flexible and remote working, and other perks like pensions and health insurance.

Employers that will emerge as winners in this new phase of the battle for talent will be those that can combine good salaries and benefits packages with at least a degree of flexible working that puts employees more in control of their own schedules.

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