Pay and perks remain important to workers, of course. Yet when it comes to what employees want most from their employer today, certain intangible priorities are center stage.
In this rapidly changing work environment, the best jobs are not necessarily those that pay the most. There are a number of other, intangible factors today's top talent looks for in an employer.
Here are some of those factors as we see them, in no particular order. . .
A global survey from the Association of Executive Search Consultants recently found more than 85 percent of the 138 recruiters surveyed have had candidates reject a plum job offer because of work-life balance considerations, as we discussed a year ago.
Although people today feel pressured to work longer and produce more to protect their jobs, the biggest changes in the workplace over the last decade have come in employers' attitudes toward work, family and flexibility.
The good news is that eight out of 10 employees at Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For last year said that management encouraged them to balance their work lives and their personal lives — an increase of 11 percentage points from 10 years ago.
Sense of Purpose
People want to be enthused by what they do, to feel connected to their work and to be able to relate to what they do and what they produce.
To do that, people need to feel that their job has worth and purpose.
If a work environment is to encourage employee achievement, there must be a true connection between employees' work and their values. This gives workers the opportunity to have pride in what they do.
Employees want the opportunity to develop, grow and build a career. To that end, good workers want to be challenged, to be trained and to continue learning on the job.
Personal growth opportunities enable employees to achieve their goals through their own skill, ability, talent and perseverance. As with a sense of purpose, individuals need to feel they are achieving something.
This only occurs when companies foster employees' ability to set goals, meet challenges and get feedback.
Individual acceptance and appreciation are essential to feeling the camaraderie and worth of the workplace community. We're not talking about employees getting a ribbon each time they do their job successfully; it's what they were hired to do, after all.
Yet little signs of appreciation for a job particularly well done — a pat on the back, an "atta boy" — can make a world of difference in terms of workers' job satisfaction.
Most employees today seem to react favorably to empowerment, or being enabled to think, behave, act and control work and decision making in autonomous ways.
Empowerment is not an implementation, and it is only partly a strategy. Rather, it is a philosophy. It is the state of feeling self-empowered to take control of one's own future.
For an organization to practice and foster a culture wherein this state can thrive, company management must communicate honestly with employees.
Employees want to be heard — not just listened to, but really heard — by their employers as well as their colleagues. Trust between workers helps build camaraderie. And employers should be going out of their way to get feedback and ideas from their employees, both good and bad.
As we noted in October's 24 Questions to Ask Employees, "The truth may hurt, but not asking could cause even more pain."
Communication is perhaps one of the strongest signs of employee empowerment — from constant, honest communication regarding the strategic plan and financial requirements and performance, down to daily decision making.
"The importance of building a strong ethical corporate culture is integral to the reputation, growth and finances of any organization," Rania A. Azmi of Alexandria University's Faculty of Commerce wrote in a 2006 study. "It builds a brand that attracts the best talent and creates trust among the stakeholders.
In many ways, this relates to employees' sense of purpose. As today's marketplace becomes increasingly conscience-focused, employees too are demanding more ethical business processes and performance from their employers to meet the "big picture," whether that means impeccable customer service or offsetting the company's carbon footprint.
A Hill & Knowlton report released in January, entitled Corporate Reputation Watch, found that almost three-quarters of the 530 MBA candidates surveyed worldwide claim reputation plays "an extremely important" or "a very important" role when considering employers upon entering the working world. Factors that drive reputation include quality of management, quality of products and services, social responsibility and use of corporate assets.
Fairness and Respect
People want to work for and with other people who will treat them fairly, with trust and respect.
In a nationwide survey of 500 workers conducted by talent management expert and author of What People Want Terry R. Bacon, when asked what matters most in their relationships with a manager, 90 percent of workers rank honesty, fairness and trust as the top three. (Source: American Management Association)
Honesty: "When there's bad news, for instance, employees should learn about it from their bosses before they see or hear it [elsewhere]," MarketWatch once said.
Fairness: Employees who feel they are treated fairly are far more likely to be happy on the job than those who sense an organization or its management team is being unfair — whether through racism, sexism, ageism, nepotism or favoritism.
Trust: Trust can come in many ways: employees being able to make decisions they can call their own, or doing their jobs without shoulder-hovering managers or comfortably depending on a fellow coworker to meet his or her part of the project's deadline.
A survey from Florida State University in December 2006 concluded that many people work for employers who don't keep their word (39 percent), don't give credit where credit's due (37 percent), talk poorly about them behind their backs (27 percent) and invade their privacy (24 percent). In other words, these people work for employers who do not respect their employees.
Yet fairness and respect should be mutual. For instance, employees should be able to work with a manager they can respect and learn from. You have to work for people and with people you trust.
Clearly, many of these qualities are interrelated. A lot of it simply comes down to employees feeling valued and respected, by their employers and by their colleagues.
Let us know the top qualities you look for in an employer.