The Message Is Clear: Workers Still Want Balance, Growth, Advancement

The economy may be improving, but job numbers show it’s a long way from fully bouncing back from pre-recession levels.

According to a survey from Kelly Services, 66 percent of the world’s workforce is looking for a new job and researchers say the employees most likely to leave are a company’s top talent!

Baby Boomers (aged 49-66) are the most likely to switch employers, with a staggering 74 percent planning to look for another position, compared with an extremely troubling 69 percent of Gen X (31-48) and 66 percent of Gen Y (19-30).

Care and appreciation are critical

An Aflac survey may explain why people are looking for new jobs. The survey found working in a sluggish economy for an extended period has often meant coping with greater demands with fewer staff and lower wages and fewer opportunities for promotion, leaving employees feeling quite restless.

“However, demonstrating they care and showing appreciation in ways that are meaningful to their employees are the most important actions company leaders and HR executives can take to prevent their best workers from walking out the door,” says Audrey Boone Tillman, formerly the Executive Vice President of Corporate Services (and now General Counsel) at Aflac.

Bersin & Associates’ research echoes Tillman’s statement. The firm found that personal fulfillment is the key motivator for employees looking for a job – not financial gain. Employees reported a strong work-life balance with opportunities for personal growth and advancement was more important than salary and benefits.

A company can effectively meet those employees’ needs with a strategic recognition program that provides specific feedback. In fact, Bersin & Associates found that companies with employee recognition programs that are good at engagement have a 31 percent lower voluntary turnover rate vs. their peers with ineffective programs. Yet, only 17 percent of employees said that their organizations’ cultures strongly support recognition, so this retention opportunity is often being squandered.

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Also wanted: Better communication

The study also revealed:

  • Companies need to be better at communicating. Bersin & Associates found that three out of four companies have a recognition program, but only 58 percent of employees believe their organizations have these programs. This means organizations have a huge opportunity to leverage their recognition programs more effectively by simply improving communications within the company to raise program awareness.
  • Effective recognition programs should reward behavior and tenure. Research shows that recognizing employees for demonstrating company values, displaying certain identified behaviors and achieving company goals are far more effective at enabling recognition than those programs that only focus on recognizing service or tenure.
  • A perception gap is rampant and everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to recognition. Nearly 80 percent of senior leaders believe employees are recognized at least on a monthly basis, with 43 percent of senior leaders saying employees are recognized weekly or more often. This contrasts starkly with the reports from managers and individual contributors: 40 percent of managers and only 22 percent of individual contributors report that their peers are recognized monthly or more often.

What do they want? Fulfilling work, good culture

This research reinforces that attracting and keeping top talent is not just about higher wages and better benefits. Instead, employees are looking for fulfilling work with a good team culture that enables them to enjoy better balance, greater meaning and satisfaction from their work.

These are easy fixes and you would be well-served to find ways to create or emphasize these opportunities in your organization.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry and to the Employee Engagement Power 100 list, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished international speaker, author, and strategist on performance improvement. A respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, talent and employee engagement, she’s a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Michelle speaks and writes about what she knows first-hand – as a former executive of a Fortune 100 global conglomerate, and as a researcher and strategist. She passionately shares new insights and tools for leaders to confidently, effectively and strategically lead their organizations to success.

Michelle is the Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University and President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association. Michelle was the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine, and has been featured on Fox Television, the BBC, in Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and other global publications, and contributed to the books Bull Market by Seth Godin, Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk, and Social Media Isn’t Social.   




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