The past two years have reshaped our priorities, and the things people want from work, along with what they’re willing to give in return—the “worth it” equation —has changed.
New data from the Work Trend Index report , which includes a cross-industry survey of 31,000 people around the world, shows that nearly half of respondents are more likely to put family and personal life over work than they were pre-pandemic. “Work is important, but I can always find another job,” says one Canadian survey respondent, a mid-level manager in government. “I can’t find another family.”
As the Great Reshuffle continues, with 43 percent of people saying they are somewhat or extremely likely to consider changing jobs in the next year, employees told us exactly what—aside from better pay—they’re looking for at work.
1. Positive culture. (And no, that doesn’t just mean unlimited iced coffee.)
According to the report, 46 percent of respondents said a positive culture at work is very important. What does that look like in practice? It takes more than communal foosball tables and never-ending snacks. In this new normal, where 45 percent of full-time employees work partly or totally remote , companies must rely on deeper, foundational values to create a culture people want to be a part of.
The definition of positive culture is going to look different for every organization. But researchers at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business say it often comes down to six principles : treating colleagues with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity; offering support when others are struggling; forgiving mistakes and not assigning blame; emphasizing how meaningful the work is; inspiring one another; and caring for colleagues as friends. While leaders should strive for this culture on its merits, research also shows that positive work cultures actually make people more productive.
2. A focus on wellbeing—including mental health.
Employees are still reeling from two years of global trauma that turned life, work, and communities upside down. While Microsoft productivity signals show that people are starting to make flexible work their own, digital meetings and chats are still way up, and the workday continues to bleed into the evening. As we all work together to build a brighter future of work, a focus on wellbeing and setting healthy boundaries will need to be an ongoing priority. Employees agree: forty-two percent of respondents said it was “very important” for employers to offer health and wellbeing benefits at work.
3. A sense of purpose.
After being forced into isolation and finally running out of Grey’s Anatomy episodes on Netflix, many people spent the pandemic in deep self-reflection. They thought about what mattered to them, what was most important, and how they wanted their lives to look. “I want to do something that I enjoy more and has more meaning,” says a Millennial frontline worker in Australia. “Since the pandemic, I have had time to look at my life, and I want more purpose in my work.” Forty percent of respondents agreed.
“Work should rotate around our lives instead of our lives rotating around work.”
Shamsi Iqbal, a productivity and intelligence researcher at Microsoft, says that’s a core component of wellbeing at work. “If you don’t feel that your work is meaningful, that you are doing something that actually has value, you do not feel good about yourself or your work. This has been supported in years of research in organizational behavior.” As Microsoft’s chief people officer, Kathleen Hogan, puts it : in a great company culture, purpose is “the secret sauce.”
4. Work on their terms.
Flexible work isn’t just about working from home . Flexible hours—which 38 percent of respondents deemed as very important in a job—empower employees to tend to other aspects of their lives, such as their hobbies and family responsibilities. “That can mean taking a walk in the middle of the day, actually taking a lunch that isn’t a sad desk lunch that you eat in front of your computer, taking 10 minutes to play with your dog, or just even step outside or exercise or go pick up your kids,” says Anne Helen Petersen , co-author of Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home. “Anything that underlines the idea that work is rotating around our lives instead of our lives rotating around work.”
5. More time off.
As employees rethink their priorities, spending more time with the people they care about is paramount, as is taking time off to rest and recharge. Thirty-six percent of employees said that having more than the standard two weeks of paid vacation each year is something they’ll look for in a job. Says one manager in the energy industry in Mexico: “Money does not allow you to relive time with your family and friends.”
There’s a strong case to be made for giving it to them. According to a U.S. Travel Association study , people who took 11 or more vacation days—more than the standard two weeks—were 30 percent more likely to receive a raise or bonus than those who took 10 days or fewer. Vacation, it turns out, really does increase performance and productivity .
To attract the best talent—and keep competitors from poaching your stars—it’s crucial to pay close attention to what employees value. While most want these five benefits, individual teams and people will have different desires, so remember to call on managers to help connect the dots on what your people need. Once you do that, the never-ending iced coffee is just the cherry on top.