What really motivates an employee to stay with an employer?

Need to know:

  • With the Great Resignation underway, organisations are working out what really makes staff join and stay with a business.
  • Flexibility, wellbeing and work-life balance are all highly prized by employees.
  • A wider sense of organisational values and the ability to develop are also attractive.

The emergence of the Great Resignation in the wake of the global pandemic is widely acknowledged, and well underway. Research by Unum, published in November 2021, suggested nearly one in three (29%) UK employees had either already moved jobs since the start of the pandemic, or was looking to do so, while 8% remained in post but would like to hand in their notice. For employers, this is deeply concerning; not only do they need to worry about holding on to their staff but the competition to attract new ones is fiercer than ever, meaning incentivising staff to stay is all the more important.

Benefits in demand

In an age where employees increasingly hold the power, flexibility is a major factor in where they choose to work; something echoed in Unum’s research, which found 68% of staff want to continue remote or hybrid working. Zoë Morris, president of Frank Recruitment Group, says: “It’s safe to say that what most employees are now looking for is flexibility, in all its different facets. Hybrid and remote work options, work from anywhere schemes, flexible hours; these are all benefits forward-looking organisations are implementing to reflect employee wants and needs across most hiring markets.”

Homeworking, in particular, is now expected across many industries, says Richard Kay, senior associate in employment law at Forbes Solicitors. “There’s a greater expectation that it should be offered as part of modern roles,” he says. “Working from home is no longer considered something of a privilege or a special arrangement. It’s becoming as much of an integral part of employee contracts as remuneration.”

Salary will always be an important part of any package: Unum’s research suggested 67% of employees would be attracted to a role with a higher salary, but employee benefits can also have an impact. Practical support is very much the order of the day, says Andreas Hunter, employee benefits consultant lead at Buck. “One area where this is particularly true is care support,” he says. “For some, being able to provide better care for children or elderly relatives was a huge benefit of the pandemic. Losing that can cause significant anxiety.”

Employees are also looking for more support around financial wellbeing, with strong interest in workplace saving options, he adds.

Not surprisingly, wellbeing benefits are also in demand. The Group risk benefits survey, published by industry body Group Risk Development (Grid) in February 2022, found that 42% of employees now expect more from their employer in this area, and 22% have invested in new employee benefits in this area. Katharine Moxham, spokesperson at Grid, says: “Employees are reluctant to return to highly stressful environments which put pressure on physical and mental wellbeing. Instead, they want a supportive environment where their health and wellbeing truly matters.”

Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health and Protection, agrees this is now a priority. “Mental health support is so important at present so employee assistance programmes, counselling access, virtual GP access and online CBT are particularly well valued, perhaps more highly perceived and valued than they cost,” she explains.

Work/life balance

Other measures employers can take to help ensure a good work-life balance are also proving popular. Cloud services firm Dropbox has introduced the concept of flexible paid time off. Laura Ryan, director of international HR at Dropbox, says: “This helps employees gain access to unlimited leave throughout the year, with greater control and flexibility than ever before. In order for us to make these flexible holidays work, we also knew that managers needed to lead by example, by taking the [holiday] time they need, when they need it. This initiative has helped overturn outdated beliefs on the importance of taking a break and its benefits for mental health.”

Aside from improving their personal situation, there is also a wider movement underway around the type of employer individuals want to work for post-pandemic. Robert Ordever, European managing directo of OC Tanner, says: “First and foremost, employees want to feel valued as people. By fostering a culture that identifies and rewards great work, [employers are] helping to ensure employees feel connected to the [organisation’s] purpose, and to their co-workers.”

Its 2022 Global culture report, published in September 2021, found that when recognition is an integrated part of an organisation’s culture, engagement increases by 173%.

The culture of an organisation is important, because employees want to work somewhere that allows them to be their authentic self, that is free from toxicity or office politics, and places a strong focus on equality and inclusion, says Petra O’Hara, talent director at Gleeson Recruitment Group. “They also increasingly want to work for organisations that stand for something positive in a wider social context, such as taking steps to tackle their carbon emissions and taking corporate social responsibility (CSR) seriously. These factors are especially important to younger generations moving into the workplace.”

Another factor that is rising up the agenda is the ability to develop. Research by the Project Management Institute  in October 2021 found 22% of workers believe having opportunities to develop new skills is the most important aspect of their employment, while a third would feel more engaged at work if they had more in-house training opportunities.

Ashwini Bakshi, managing director of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa at the Project Management Institute, says: “From the top, there is a need for a recalibration of standards and requirements when it comes to employee learning. An effective audit must evaluate upskilling opportunities through the lens of the employee: how comfortable people are to ask questions, how much time they’re given to step away from their day-to-day role to upskill, and the accessibility to existing knowledge within the organisation.”

Yet in an age when many individuals simply want a fresh challenge, it may be that if someone is set on leaving, the best thing an employer can do is leave the door open in case they wish to come back. As Melisaan Foster, customer success and experience director at WorkBuzz, says: “Irrespective of how good an employer is, young people often perceive their career pathway as spending one-to-three years in a role or at a particular employer before moving to another, to widen their experiences. We’re encouraging our clients to ensure the employee lifecycle, from attraction to alumni, is considered and enables employees to leave positively, but also boomerang back in time.”

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