What Workers Want

Dr. Jack Wiley draws on his newly published book “RESPECT: Delivering Results by Giving Employees What They Really Want,” to explore the education and career growth wants of employees.

By Dr. Jack Wiley, Founder and Executive director, Kenexa High Performance Institute

For more than 30 years we’ve been asking workers around the world what they most want from the organizations for which they work. The results are fascinating and explain the basic truths about employee needs and desires. They also, and possibly most strikingly, reveal that managers and organizations that give their employees what they want outperform those that don’t.

So what do workers want? To borrow from “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin, the seven elements accounting for 90 percent of what workers want can be summed up using the acronym R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Recognition: A pat on the back from managers and the organization at large

Exciting work: A job that’s interesting, challenging, and fun

Security of employment: Job security—you may not want to talk about it but employees do

Pay: Fair compensation for a day’s work

Education and career growth: Opportunities to develop skills and a career

Conditions at work: A workplace that is comfortable physically and socially, and well equipped

Trust: Frank, honest, and transparent leaders

You, like us, may have assumed the vast majority of employees primarily would want one thing: more pay. It’s true that pay comes out on top, with 25 percent of employees saying it is the most important thing to them. Recognition is a close second, though, at 20 percent, and education and career growth is a significant want at 9 percent—almost 1 in 10 of workers surveyed.

Meeting Employees’ Education and Career Growth Needs

Helping employees get what they want when it comes to education and career growth is a win for business and a win for employees. Better educated and better prepared employees create more value, but beyond the business economics, humans have an innate drive to learn and grow.

While some learning obviously will be applied in an employee’s current job, much new skill development is in the pursuit of the next career step. This distinction between opportunity for skill improvement and opportunity for career development is an important one and highlights the issue: While many employees feel they can do their jobs well—and have the tools to do so—they don’t have much hope of advancing. Globally in our study, the number of employees who have opportunities to learn (57 percent) roughly matches those who feel they can meet their career goals with their current employer (52 percent), but the situation for the younger generation (Millennial or Generation X) is bleaker. Sixty-seven percent believe their current employer provides the opportunity for skill improvement, but only 47 percent feel they will be able to achieve their career goals with their current employers. Clearly, some development investment appears wasted on those with no or little chance of advancing.

For businesses, the lesson is to identify human capital needs in conjunction with identifying those likely to make career strides (high potentials) and invest early and often in their development. If businesses don’t support career development, what they’re really doing is encouraging their employees to leave once they’ve mastered their existing skills. If employees aren’t able to envision their futures within their current organization, they’ll simply look over the fence. A stunning 54 percent of employees who can’t see a path to advancement are considering leaving.

It can work on the positive side, too. If employees believe they can achieve their career goals within their companies, only 19 percent are seriously considering leaving their organizations within the next 12 months. In other words, the risk of losing valuable employees drops by more than half simply by providing career development.

The Cost Of Failing to Provide Career Development

This risk translates into real money—expenditures that may be required to recover from unwanted turnover. Assume a conservative U.S.-based estimate for turnover costs of 25 percent of an employee’s annual salary. That’s $13,355 on average per employee. Let’s say you employ 7,500 employees and according to our data, 48 percent of employees are not confident they can achieve their career goals at their current employer. Seventy-nine percent of that group will consider leaving in the same year. Let’s assume only half of them do. Given those statistics and the average cost of turnover, your company faces turnover costs of $18,990,810. Most companies simply can’t afford to ignore the gap between what employees want and what they are receiving in terms of development and advancement opportunities.

Career Education and Growth Are Good for Business

It goes without saying that organizations need well-trained workers; goals cannot be achieved without them. Training and development managers know this, but it also should make sense to CEOs, chief financial officers, and anybody else with responsibility for managing a profit-and-loss statement. Companies that invest in training and development reap the rewards in terms of higher net sales and increased gross profits.

Dr. Laurie Bassi, an economist and HR specialist, identified this trend more than a decade ago while working at ASTD. Her work involved comparing a company’s net assets less their liabilities, with their expenditure on training and development. She found that organizations that were above the median in per-employee training expenditures created more value (more than double the market-to-book ratio) compared to spenders below the median.

Employees who indicated that education and career growth were what they wanted most from their company are on a mission to improve themselves and their stations in life, seeking fair promotion opportunities and accessible development options. The evidence for supporting training and development is clear; it’s not only good for business, it also fulfills one of the seven key wants of workers.

Jack W. Wiley, Ph.D., is founder and executive director of the Kenexa High Performance Institute. Dr. Wiley is recognized internationally for research that links employee survey results to measures of customer satisfaction and business performance. He is also the creator of the WorkTrends survey, an international survey research program that produces results featured in both scholarly studies and the popular press worldwide. He has more than 30 years of experience consulting with organizations in the health-care, financial services, manufacturing and retail industries. For more information on Dr. Wiley’s new book “RESPECT: Delivering Results by Giving Employees What They Really Want,” visit http://www.respectthebook.com/

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