Executive Careers Blog

What Employees Want


"While employers acknowledged the impact of their actions on employee well-being, they have not made the connection between well-being-related items—such as convenient work location, flexible scheduling and time off—and an employee's decision to join a firm" --Excerpt from:  Towers Watson's 2010 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study

Young Employees

There's a disconnect between what employers think attracts employees to their company and what actually attracts employees.

Go figure.

But given that the same Towers Watson report—based on a global survey of 1,176 HR pros with responsibilities in compensation and benefits or talent management—also shows that companies have significant problems attracting and retaining top talent, perhaps it’s time that companies started paying more attention to what employees are saying.

Before we get into that, here are some figures from the survey:

  • 52 percent of U.S. companies have a problem attracting "critical-skill employees", while 31 percent have problems retaining them.
  • For "top-performing" employees, the numbers aren't much better: 45 percent of U.S. companies have problems attracting them, and a quarter have problems with retention.
  • And even "high-potential" employees are hard to come by: 40 percent of U.S. companies struggle to attract them, and 25 percent have problems with retention.

So what's the deal?

How is it that in the current economy employers are still struggling to attract and retain top talent?

At least part of the answer seems to come back to that disconnect between what employers and employees deem attractive. On a list of the seven most important factors that make a company attractive, employers and employees agreed on just four of the items (even if they ranked them differently in terms of importance): base pay, reputation, challenging work, and opportunities for advancement.

Looking again at the employers' list of qualities, it seems that there's a tendency to forget that employees have lives—or needs or wants—outside of the office.
Phil Stott

For the remaining three items, employers felt employees would be attracted by: the business/industry of the organization, opportunities to learn new skills, and the organization's financial health.

Compare those with what employees considered important: convenient work location, vacation/holiday/PTO, and a flexible schedule.

It's not a difficult pattern to spot, is it? While employees care about their jobs, they also want balance. Come to think of it, it's not even a particularly new pattern. So why the disconnect?

Looking again at the employers' list of qualities, it seems that there's a tendency to forget that employees have lives—or needs or wants—outside of the office. That's understandable: when you get paid to think about an organization's overall well-being, you're liable to arrive at a point where you assume that everyone will have the same concerns. Thus, you believe that a potential employee will be more concerned about how much of a profit the firm is making than how much vacation time you offer. Or maybe you think that your industry is a bigger selling point than an easy commute and access to amenities.

Despite the economy, high-performing employees still know that their skills are in high demand. And because of that, they're going to continue wanting it all. Realizing what it is they want is the first step employers can make towards retaining their good employees, and persuading other high potential candidates to consider joining them.

More from this report: U.S. Companies are More Likely to Lay Off Employees

Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.

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