What Motivates Employees to Stay? It’s Mostly About the Pay

Sometimes, the simplest and most logical answer that makes the most sense.

So it is with CareerBuilder‘s latest survey that digs deep into just what it is that an organization can do to keep a talented employee on board.

Would you believe that for most workers — surprise, surprise! — it’s all about the money?

When employees were asked the question, “What ultimately entices workers to stay with a company?”, the majority of workers (70 percent) reported that increasing salaries is the best way to boost employee retention.

One-third of top performers left their job in 2012

That’s just one response from the latest CareerBuilder survey that “explores which job factors are most important to today’s workers.” More than 3,900 full-time workers nationwide participated in the survey conducted online by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, 2012.

Not surprisingly, employers are extremely focused on retention. Nearly one-third of employers (32 percent) reported that top performers had left their organizations in 2012, and another 39 percent are concerned that they’ll lose some of their top talent in 2013.

In contrast, while most workers (66 percent) stated that they are generally satisfied with their jobs, one in four (25 percent) said they will change jobs in 2013 or 2014, although it remains to be seen if the economy will continue to grow enough to allow that to happen.

Still, that 25 percent figure seems somewhat mild compared to what we’ve been hearing in so many engagement surveys the last few years when the percentage of workers saying they were ready to bolt ranged from 30 percent to 60 percent (or more), depending on the survey.

The CareerBuilder survey also asked employees to weigh in on the value of various about workplace perks and other items that are generally thought to motivate workers to stay with their companies. Here are a few examples.

How important is the job title?

While upward mobility is a key factor in job satisfaction and employee retention, having a specific job title isn’t important to more than half of the workers (55 percent) surveyed. The vast majority (88 percent) reported that salary matters more.

Other factors that outrank job title in what is most important to workers are:

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  • Flexible schedule – 59 percent;
  • Being able to make a difference – 48 percent;
  • Challenging work – 35 percent;
  • Ability to work from home – 33 percent;
  • Academic reimbursement – 18 percent;
  • Having an office – 17 percent; and,
  • Company car – 14 percent.

Do perks matter?

About a quarter (26 percent) of workers said that special perks help to improve employee retention. When asked to identify one perk that would make their workplace more satisfying, getting a jump on the weekend, convenient gym access, and casual dress scored highest (although a lot of the “perks” that were listed seem to be hard to find outside of high-tech firms in the Silicon Valley):

  1. Half-day Fridays – 40 percent;
  2. On-site fitness center – 20 percent;
  3. Ability to wear jeans – 18 percent;
  4. Daily catered lunches – 17 percent;
  5. Massages – 16 percent;
  6. Nap room – 12 percent;
  7. Rides to and from work – 12 percent;
  8. Snack cart that comes around the office – 8 percent;
  9. Private restroom – 7 percent;
  10. On-site daycare – 6 percent.

Compensation “always” a top consideration

And, what else beyond more money and better benefits “ultimately entices workers to stay” on the job and reduce voluntary turnover? Workers cited things like flexible schedules (51 percent), an increase in employee recognition awards (50 percent), taking action on employee feedback (48 percent), increased training and learning opportunities (35 percent), and hiring additional workers to ease workloads (22 percent).

“What determines job satisfaction is not a one-size-fits-all, but flexibility, recognition, the ability to make a difference and yes, even special perks, can go a long way,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, in a press release about the survey findings.

She added: “Being compensated well will always be a top consideration, but we’re seeing work-life balance, telecommuting options and learning opportunities outweigh other job factors when an employee decides whether to stay with an organization.”

Yes, Rosemary’s right that here are a variety of factors that can help keep employees in the fold, but what this survey suggests to me is that all of the other perks and factors may not matter much if the most important one — pay — isn’t right.

Ignore that basic fact at your peril.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


14 Comments on “What Motivates Employees to Stay? It’s Mostly About the Pay

    1. The writer (and perhaps the original survey for that matter) does not distinguish between affective commitment and continuance commitment. Top performing companies are striving for affective commitment. That’s the disconnect being discussed in this comment thread.

  1. This survey needs to be broken down by demographics. I am virtually certain that $ is not the top priority for Millennials. Do you have that data?

  2. Maybe people don’t always recognize what motivates them? They say that more money is what will entice them to stay, but if they were really happy at their jobs, they might not even consider leaving!

    1. I agree. What people say in a survey does not always accurately reflect how they really feel and how they really act. While I don’t want to completely discount the survey or results… I do question the validity to some extent. (Wait, did I just discount the survey and results…? 🙂

      “…while most workers (66 percent) stated that they are generally satisfied with their jobs, one in four (25 percent) said they will change jobs in 2013 or 2014…”

      What does that really mean? Is that 25% part of the 66% (or the remaining 34%)? And since when does “most” equal 66%…? You gotta love data.

  3. Totally correct, John. People have always gone to work primarily to get paid — things haven’t changed. As a flex champion, I see the continuing value it commands. In these toiugh times, it is cheaper than more pay, so maybe equally valuable?

  4. Good pay compensates for people’s misery in doing work they don’t like for bosses they don’t respect. It’s the proverbial “golden handcuffs”. I see more people settling for less pay in return for meaningful work. Although, I must admit they usually don’t have children to support.

    1. Interesting to use the phrase “settling for less pay in return for meaningful work.” Are they settling? Could we say the other people are “settling for a crappy job in return for more pay.” I’m wondering who is really “settling.” I know it’s nitpicky semantics, and I know we’re saying the same thing (mostly), but I thought it was interesting. That said, I completely agree with you, Michael. Thanks.

  5. When asked if pay matters, people will always say “yes, of course”. But statistical analysis will reveal that it’s the emotional aspects of one’s job (purpose, opportunities for development, trust in leadership, customer-centricity) that are the real drivers of retention. Derived importance will show that it’s almost never about the pay.

  6. Thanks, Steve – Not nitpicking semantics but substantive correction about “settling.” Friends I know are ecstatic about the shift and worth the lower pay in return for fulfillment in the most productive years of their lives. They also complain less.

  7. I would say that during the time of economic prosperity people value all possible perks and bonuses etc. During the time of economic slowdowns and collapses, all regular
    people will value the feeling of employment stability the most. And that’s all – as we can only work hard for living, but cannot live hard for working.

  8. If it’s an individual thing then you will need to find out what motivates them and use that knowledge to get them to be more enthusiastic about work. Different people are motivated differently. For some people, all you need to do is pay them more money. For others, money won’t do a thing, but recognition will. Still for others, it’s all about feeling appreciated for what they do. The lack of motivation in the workplace can be a combination of many different things. It could be both the environment, people having the wrong jobs, and not getting what they want out of a career.

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