Career and Jobs

New Study: What People Want From Work And 3 Ways To Create It

Work can be a grind, and expectations have shifted significantly—with working conditions increasingly under scrutiny. What people really want is becoming increasingly clear with research which shows what matters most—and what doesn’t.

Even as the economy contracts, predictions are the tight labor market will continue, so offering work and working conditions where people want to contribute will be important endeavors for companies who want to attract and retain workers—and for those who want to do the right thing for employees.

New studies from MyPerfectResume and McKinsey & Company demonstrate what kinds of conditions detract from wellbeing, as well as what motivates and engages people. The studies looked especially at front line workers, but the lessons pertain to all kinds of work in all kinds of areas. Here are three ways to create a better, more inspiring and a more nourishing work climate.

#1 – The Work and How It’s Done

Design of the Work

People often think of working conditions as primary drivers of wellbeing and engagement, but the work itself also matters. According to the MyPerfectResume study, for many, working with customers (39%) or monotonous work (36%) can deplete energy. In both the MyPerfectResume and the McKinsey studies, the amount of work also made a difference in wellbeing—with task overload among the most negative aspects of work. And in the McKinsey study, safety at work was a number one concern, compared to all the other factors.

Implication: As much as possible, design work so it doesn’t include elements which detract from wellbeing. If working with customers or repetitive tasks are hallmarks of the work, consider how the responsibilities could be rotated with other employees so no job is overwhelmed by these characteristics. In addition, ensure workloads are realistic, and ensure safety processes are followed without exception.

Flexibility and Control

In addition to the content of the work and what gets done, how work gets done is critical to wellbeing at work. For decades, work-life research has demonstrated when people have more control over when and how they work, their satisfaction, engagement, retention and effort are positively impacted. These studies prove this effect as well.

In the MyPerfectResume research, people reported elements which made work less satisfying: working only at night (25%), shift work (22%), lack of flexible working options (19%) and lack of remote working options (15%). The study also reported people disliked having a lack of work-life balance (26%) and in the McKinsey study, this factor ranked number two among reasons people would leave their jobs, along with “care for family” ranked as number ten. In the McKinsey study, a flexible work schedule ranked number five for reasons people would choose to leave or stay at their job.

Implication: While it’s not possible to provide flexibility or choices in work hours for many jobs, wise employers will provide as much control as possible for as many jobs as possible. The McKinsey study is instructive on this count. For example, the McKinsey study showed people value having more breaks (56%), the ability to take time off (88%), the choice to work specific days or hours (78% and 79% respectively) and the option to work remotely (51%). Offering these kinds of choices may offer the greatest returns in employees’ satisfaction and retention.

#2 – Pay and Benefits

Solid Pay and Meaningful Benefits

It should go without saying, but especially with high inflation and increasing healthcare costs, pay and benefits are high priorities for people, and they are associated with a sense of wellbeing with their work. The MyPerfectResume study found the following would detract from employees’ satisfaction: lack of health insurance (21%), lack of paid time off and lack of retirement plans (16% each). In addition, the MyPerfectResume study found low earnings would detract from satisfaction for 42% of respondents and in the McKinsey study, compensation ranked eighth as a reason people would leave their position.

Implication: Pay people fairly and provide solid benefits. In terms of pay, consider greater pay transparency which can contribute to a sense of equity and accountability in pay, and make it easier for people to weigh compensation as a reason to join or stay with an organization. For benefits, provide a broad array so employees can choose the benefits most meaningful to them. For some, pet care may be a high priority, but for others mental health resources, insurance coverage or paid time off may matter most.

Wellness Programs

For many, the presence of programs specifically geared toward wellbeing are important. The MyPerfectResume study found this was true for 13% of respondents and the McKinsey study found respondents would consider availability of support resources (45%) and mental health resources (16%) as important to their decision to remain with an employer. The McKinsey study also demonstrated 37% of people would value an employer who monitors for signs of employee distress.

Implication: Wellbeing at work can come from many sources—for example work content, leadership, culture and the like—but employers are wise to focus on wellness explicitly as well. Implement programs which provide the skills for colleagues and leaders to attend to employee wellbeing and make plenty of resources available for physical, cognitive and emotional support. In addition, communicate the availability of wellbeing benefits broadly. Even if employees don’t personally take advantage of certain benefits, the existence of the benefits sends an important message that organizations care and are willing to invest in employees.

#3 – Culture and Meaning

In addition to the nature of the work, wages and benefits, another significant factor in wellbeing at work is the culture of the organization, how employers ensure a sense of purpose and so many other factors. Here’s what matters most.

Culture

The MyPerfectResume study found the following were most detrimental in people’s judgement about what made a negative work experience:

  • Negative atmosphere (37%), discrimination (30%) and being bullied (26%)
  • Poor leadership (37%) or bad relationships with leadership (26%)
  • Lack of opportunities for growth (31%)

In addition, the MyPerfectResume study found lack of communication affected 33% of people and the McKinsey study found open lines of communication were important to 41% of respondents.

Colleagues count as well, with the MyPerfectResume study demonstrating negative relationships with colleagues and office gossip (29% each) accounted for negative experiences. In the McKinsey study, people said caring and trusting teammates were the third most important factor in their choice to stay at an employer, and 24% believe organizations can contribute to positive work cultures by facilitating greater connection between coworkers.

Implication: Organizations benefit when they are intentional about their cultures and the atmospheres they create for employees. Ensuring there is zero tolerance for discrimination or bullying are important, but providing development opportunities for leaders and employees is also impactful. Organizations which ensure plenty of communication also contribute to a positive culture. And places where people can contribute across role boundaries tend to build strong, collegial relationships. Affinity groups, shared goals and clarity about how jobs affect each other are also helpful to strong collegial relationships.

Meaning

The topic of meaning is also fundamental to wellbeing and engagement. This factor relates to the content of jobs, how jobs are valued (paid) and the cultural components which contribute to people’s sense of meaning in their work.

The topic is critical. In the MyPerfectResume study, 37% of people said doing meaningless work was a factor in feeling negatively toward their work, and the McKinsey study found the extent to which people felt meaning in their work was the fourth most important component in whether they would remain at their job.

Respect, value and recognition were also important. The MyPerfectResume study found 24% of people felt being disrespected by society was an element in work they wouldn’t want to do, and the McKinsey study found being valued by the organization and one’s manger ranked numbers six and seven in why people would choose to stay with their organization. It also found 61% of people value recognition as a factor in their wellbeing at work.

Implication: Ensure people see the meaning in their work, and clarify (repeatedly) how each job matters to customers, the company and the broader community. Every job has dignity and importance and it’s up to an organization and leaders to be sure people have a sense of how they matter. Provide plenty of recognition and give people a sense of purpose and a line of sight to how their work impacts on others. These all contribute to a sense of meaning—which is critical not only to whether people stay or leave a role, but to their overall sense of esteem and wellbeing.

In Sum

There are plenty of factors which affect wellbeing and engagement, but for organizations and leaders who are intentional about designing meaningful work, providing solid pay and benefits and creating cultures of empowerment and respect, the payoffs are significant.

Doing the right thing for people is the right thing to do for many reasons—not the least of which are the business benefits which accrue when people join, stay, engage and grow within the organization.

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