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Some factors in employee retention are not really new

February 27, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Joe DeSantis  

In the words of the old song, Everything Old is New Again. But the results of a recent survey from CareerBuilder about employee attitudes suggest that today maybe those words could be changed a little, to A Lot of Things Old Are New Again, or, conversely, Some Things Are Strictly 21st Century. Still it is instructive, although on another level dismaying but maybe a bit reassuring too, to note what today’s workers feel would entice them to stay with their current employers. Some of the top items they came up with could easily have come from their parents or even their grandparents when they worked.

Harris Interactive conducted the survey on behalf of CareerBuilder. Responses came from 2,611 HR professionals and 3,991 workers, all employed full-time, none self-employed. Here are some of the things they told us:

  • When asked to identify key factors in job satisfaction, nearly nine out of ten (88%) said that salary matters more than job title, and more than half (55%) said that having a presumably attractive job title matters very little. Any Baby Boomer will tell you there is nothing new in either finding. Although if they are honest they will admit that when they were as old as Millenials are now, they might have initially impressed by a fancy title. Most of them shed that delusion soon enough, though.

Other factors that outranked fancy job titles follow:

  • Flexible schedule (59%). This one is strictly 21st-century, although it is fair to say that flexible schedules could not exist without today’s communications technology. Therefore, there never was a realistic chance for flexible schedules a generation or two ago, at least not for the vast majority of workers. It was strictly butts-in-seats back in the day.
  • Being able to make a difference (48%). This one is as old as the workplace itself. It is a basic human need.
  • When asked what would make the workplace more satisfying, about a quarter (26%) responded that special perks would do the trick. Of those responses:
    • Forty percent wanted to be able to wrap up their week at lunchtime on Friday. This one belongs exclusively to today’s workers also, although it too is something that probably could not exist without today’s technology. A generation ago it would have been unheard of.
    • Other perks cited, but by fewer and fewer workers as you go down the list, were undreamed-of luxuries a generation ago: on-site fitness centers, the ability to wear jeans, daily catered lunches, massages, nap rooms, rides to and from work, snack carts that come around the office, private restrooms, and—perhaps surprisingly—on-site day care (cited by only 6%).
  • When asked what ultimately entices workers to stay with their employers, 70% cited what at least that many would cite in any generation: pay. A generation ago, though, the cause-effect dynamic might have been reversed; if you stayed with your employer, salary growth came more or less automatically. It is widely accepted today, with enough documentation to maintain the perception, that to grow your salary you need to change employers.

After salary, though, come these retention factors:

  • Provide flexible schedules (51%)—again, strictly 21st century
  • Increase employee recognition (awards, cash prizes, company trips) (50%)—nothing new here.
  • Ask employees what they want and put feedback into action (48%)—nothing new here
  • Increase training and learning opportunities (35%)—nothing new here
  • Hire additional workers to ease workloads (22%)—still nothing new
  • Provide academic reimbursement (22%)—not strictly 21st century, but perhaps more urgent today in a workplace that regards advanced education not as value-added but as fundamental to success.
  • Carve out specific career paths and promote more (21%)—nothing new here
  • Institute a more casual dress code (14%)—strictly 21st century (Interesting since casual dress is more a norm than an exception and there is a reverse trend right now by companies)

What is dismaying about many of these items is the thought that employers still apparently come up short when it comes to providing the kinds of practices and workplaces that address some of the most basic human needs that workers have. Still, to be fair to employers, many the items are satisfactions that are so basic to human nature—challenging work, employee recognition, soliciting and acting on employee feedback, for example—that no worker will ever feel there is enough of them, no matter how hard the employer works to provide them. The need will never go away.

At the same time, there is something reassuring that for all of the factors that make today’s workplace so different from the workplace of a generation ago, some things haven’t really changed. When it comes to those factors, everything old truly is new again.

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