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What Star Employees Want

by Annamarie Mann and Amy Adkins
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Companies need to find out what their best employees want
  • A significant increase in income is critical
  • Workers want the opportunity to work for a company with a great brand

This is the second article in a two-part series.

What do workers want most out of their job and their company?

The answer to these questions can help organizations develop better attraction and recruitment strategies. It can also give them insights into why some of their employees, including many of their stars, may be leaving.

More than one in three employees (35%) have changed jobs within the past three years, and 91% of these employees left their company to do so, according to Gallup's State of the American Workplace report.

Gallup asked employees how important certain attributes are when considering whether to take a job with a different organization. We found that employees place the greatest importance on a role and an organization that offers them:

  1. the ability to do what they do best
  2. greater work-life balance and better personal well-being
  3. greater stability and job security
  4. a significant increase in income
  5. the opportunity to work for a company with a great brand or reputation

This article focuses on the last two factors.

A Significant Increase in Income

Roughly four in 10 employees (41%) say a significant increase in income is "very important" to them when considering a new job. Specifically, more male employees than female employees say this factor is "very important," and more millennials and Gen Xers than baby boomers rate this aspect as "very important" in a job search.

Income matters to people, and organizations cannot overlook its importance. Organizations should highlight compensation for candidates and ensure that hiring managers have real conversations with those candidates about pay structure and potential during interviews. However, they must also recognize that a viable attraction and recruitment strategy needs to encompass more than a "competitive compensation package."

Talk about pay, but bring more than pay to the table. People make decisions based on both reason and emotion, but they are more likely to be led by emotion. Therefore, organizations should clearly present how candidates can contribute to a role and an organization.

Because significant increases in income are typically associated with promotions, organizations need to find ways to create levels of expertise in existing individual contributor roles. Not all employees have the talent or qualifications to be a manager or leader, but they should be rewarded for continuing to improve in their role. This strategy supports employee specializations and reduces the pressure to promote tenured but unqualified employees into management or leadership roles.

As much as possible, compensation should be individualized to the employee. People want pay and incentives based on their situation and contributions.

The Opportunity to Work for a Company With a Great Brand or Reputation

While the brand or reputation of a company is not the most important consideration for job seekers, more than one-third (36%) say it is "very important" when evaluating a potential job. A company's brand carries the most weight with baby boomers and female employees.

A company's brand or reputation can perhaps link to the strength of its identity. However, brand and reputation also reflect a sense of pride. Employees want to feel good about their organization and what it offers the world. They want to be able to say, "I like what this company stands for."

If employees do not believe in their company or do not believe the company can successfully uphold its brand or reputation, they will likely look for a different job. If a candidate has a choice between two jobs and considers everything else equal -- fit to role, greater work-life balance and stability, and increased income -- brand and reputation can be the tiebreaker.

Organizations should play up their brand and reputation beyond a few paragraphs on their "About Us" webpage. They need to demonstrate online -- through easily accessible stories and robust content -- how they honor these elements. Organizations can share media coverage, customer and employee testimonials, and information about awards they have received. They can also highlight their community involvement.

Candidates and employees should have a clear idea of what an organization stands for and how its brand and reputation connect to an authentic employee experience.

Important Demographic Differences

Employees as a whole largely agree on what they want most in a new job, making it easier for organizations to market themselves to a modern, demographically diverse workforce.

However, Gallup has uncovered a few variations in how different groups of people feel about specific aspects of their job. For example, female employees are significantly more likely than male employees are (60% versus 48%, respectively) to say it is "very important" to them that their job allow them greater work-life balance and better personal well-being.

Certainly, men share more responsibility for the home and family than they did just a few decades ago, but women still represent the primary caregivers in many households and often face extra pressure to "balance" their personal and professional lives. As organizations try to diversify their workforces and bring more women into a variety of roles, they cannot overlook the importance of work-life balance and personal well-being for this group of employees.

Further, employees' views diverge greatly by generation on the importance of one particular topic: having a job that accelerates professional or career development. Millennials are much more likely than both Gen Xers and baby boomers to say a job that accelerates their professional or career development is "very important" to them (45% of millennials versus 31% of Gen Xers and 18% of baby boomers).

As the youngest generation in the workplace, millennials are more invested in development than are employees who may be closer to retirement or who have already obtained their career goals. Organizations should ensure that their attraction and retention strategies highlight and deliver on learning opportunities, career pathing and performance management standards.

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