The 3 Things Employees Wanted from Work in 2016 – The Results Are In!

The 3 Things Employees Wanted from Work in 2016 – The Results Are In!

When speaking with employers, I hear a shared sentiment.  The employee market has become so competitive, and it is difficult to find and keep the right people to grow our business/organization.  Based on this reality, employers have come to the realization that their business plan needs to include talent strategies that not only attract but also retain engaged, high performing employees.

We all appreciate the value of an engaged workforce based on what I refer to as the Engagement–Profit chain.  Engagement directly impacts the customer experience, customer retention, and, ultimately, profitability.

Years of Gallup research is clear – greater engagement equals greater results:

  • Increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year. (Workplace Research Foundation)
  • Companies with employee engagement programs achieve 26% greater year-over-year increase in annual company revenue, compared those who do not have formal programs. (Aberdeen, October 2015)
  • 85% of organizations cite engagement as one of their top challenges and rank as “important or very important.” (Global Human Capital Trends, 2016)

When an employee is engaged in their work, they have a personal connection to the employer and are motivated to create, improve, and perform beyond the required tasks.  When employees are unengaged, the opposite occurs—the definition of the so-called “clock puncher.”

Surveys by Deloitte and Price Waterhouse Coopers indicate that this is understood by most executives, but many aren’t exactly sure how to go about improving engagement within their organization.

Understanding how to improve engagement among your employees begins with understanding what your employees truly want.

So ask them. It could be difference in keeping employees engaged and drawing new talent away from your competition.

So what’s happening in our market?

At Xenium, we partner with hundreds of Oregon and Southwest Washington small to mid-size employers to develop and improve their people processes. Experience indicates that for today’s workforce, there are common, job-related factors influencing engagement and performance.

To better understand our local market and how employers can get the most from their people, Xenium launched the What People Want from Work survey in 2015, and we conducted the survey again in 2016. In the survey, employees are invited to share what they want from work in regards to their employer’s leadership, workplace culture, management support, compensation, rewards & recognition, and work environment.  Participating employers obtain a benchmark for which to evaluate and measure the results of their People/HR initiatives.

The survey was created with the intention of specifically identifying:

  • What drives an employee’s performance
  • Why do they continue to stay with their employer
  • What their employer can do to continue to keep them

Survey Demographics

Participating organizations were all based in the Portland Metro and SW Washington market. We received over 750 responses from 40 participating organizations. 77.2% of the participating organizations have 50-200 employees.

See below for participants’ industries, age range, and job level:

industry ages job-level

Top Engagement Factors

At the core of this survey, we asked participants what drove them to be more engaged in their work and keeps them motivated. We asked survey takers to pick their top three of the following options:

Autonomy Flexible schedule Recognition
Business growth/
Interesting work Responsibility
Challenging work/
Job security Positive relationships
Clear and inspiring vision Opportunity for advancement Team collaboration
Mission and values alignment Personal growth Technology resources
(including benefits)
Making a difference Work environment/
physical space

The Top 3 Engagement Factors

The survey results showed that the following were the top three engagement factors cited:


Top Engagement Factors by Age

On the minds of many is how to manage and engage Millennials, so we analyzed the feedback by age (see table below). Interestingly, our population data is consistent with recent studies of generations in the workplace. For example, a LinkedIn survey of 13,000 Millennial job seekers showed that only 30% of Millennials are focused on purposeful work, whereas almost about half of all working Boomers (48%) want to do work that feels meaningful. The survey also showed that the top two reasons Millennials leave a job are to seek A) more money and benefits and B) more career opportunities.

Contrary to what many of us have heard, Millennials are very concerned with compensation and benefits. We are seeing increases in 401k participation, and they are looking at benefits and perks as a key decision factor when shopping employers.  While they are attracted to a values-driven culture that offers flexibility and collaboration, they also desire the ability to increase their experience and compensation.  These younger workers, who make up at least 25% of the current U.S. workforce (and expected to make up half of our workforce by 2020), often have less patience than older generations when not seeing clear opportunities for growth and advancement.  This is why we see more job changes with younger employees.  It is not necessarily that they are non-committal or entitled; they are just about options and access.  The mindset is abundance; if I can’t grow here, I will find somewhere else where I can.

Gen X and Boomers tend to be more focused on purpose, relationships, and flexibility.  Flexibility is increasingly important to the Gen X group in particular, as they fall into what is referred to as the “sandwich generation,” or those who must balance care for children and aging parents.


Top Engagement Factors by Experience

We found that an employee’s years of experience correlates with their age, so similar trends are seen as in the previous data: the more years of experience an employee has, the more purpose and flexibility are prioritized, and the less compensation influences engagement and retention.


What does this all mean and what should we do with this information?

In the interest of being transparent, this data was collected across varying employees in several unique industry types. It would be irresponsible to assume we have identified exactly what all people want from their work–it’s a small slice of the full story.

What will make the difference in your workplace is finding out what your employee population values most–identifying your company’s slice of the story, which may or may not align with what we found, and may lead to some surprises. For example, you may learn that you are spending money on benefits and perks that do not hold high value with your employee population.  Or, a minor adjustment to work hours and scheduling may be a difference-maker to your top performers.

One thing we can stake a claim on more firmly, however, is that asking the question and engaging your employees, no matter how their responses might confuse you, will in itself demonstrate to your employees that you want to listen, you are open to changing to better accommodate them, and you want them to stick around.  They key is that if you ask, be prepared to take some action.  This will foster trust and loyalty and will allow you to assess progress and results.

Suzi Alligood

A valued member of Xenium’s Senior Leadership team, Suzi gives clients the guidance they need to be better employers. With over 18 years of experience in human resource management, Suzi has provided her expertise to clients across a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, nonprofit, retail and professional services. As Director of Training & Development, Suzi oversees Xenium’s training and development programs, regularly leading workshops and seminars for business owners, managers and human resource professionals throughout the Northwest.


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