The job market right now is white hot, and workers seeking employment have more choices than they’ve had in years. As a founding member of DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board, I helped the group conduct a study on the Most Desirable Jobs in 2016. Our goal was to learn about the type of work that’s preferable to today’s American workers so that we could advise organizations on how to most effectively compete for the top talent.
We were in for a bit of a surprise.
Alternative forms of work have taken off, but they aren’t resonating with the average American worker as strongly as we initially believed. Rather, it seems that many U.S. professionals might have post-recession memory — gravitating toward more stable, conventional employment after a long-term period of tumult in the job market.
The Impact of The Recession
Although the world of work is evolving quickly, a majority of respondents appreciate more traditional job scenarios. Much has been made of the desire to be entrepreneurial, but our results didn’t reflect this. A minority of workers (26 percent) said they wanted to work at a company with fewer than 50 employees, and only 5 percent wanted to work at a startup. Just 17 percent said they would start their own company if they had the choice.
Technology has evolved in such a way that eight hours of face time every day in a single location is no longer necessary. However, for our respondents, that may not be a good thing. Over 80% of workers said they prefer a single job that’s full-time, and nearly 60 percent said they liked going into an office provided there was some location flexibility. An exclusive work-from-home schedule apparently isn’t the Holy Grail for our respondents: Only 18 percent said this was their preferred arrangement.
During the recession years, many positions were eliminated and never replaced, leading to the current status quo of the lean, flat organization. Nevertheless, many employees like the security of hierarchy, especially when it comes to reporting to an individual boss. Far more respondents (36 percent) said they would rather work under a manager than in an environment where everyone is on equal footing.
What does this mean? For one, if you’re in a position to hire, you shouldn’t assume that everyone wants location or time flexibility. Customized work arrangements should be discussed on a case-by-case basis, and individual preferences should be taken into account. On the other side of the coin, if you’re working for an organization, don’t be afraid to speak up and communicate the circumstances that work best for your lifestyle.
Perks Aren’t Everything
Some things never change, and a laser focus on compensation is one example. Among our respondents, competitive compensation was the most important factor when considering a new job or deciding whether to stay at the current one.
Following the lead of the Silicon Valley tech companies, which have taken drastic steps to woo highly-skilled engineers and IT professionals, many companies have engaged in “perk wars” in recent years. Video game consoles, massage tables — you name it — organizations have tried it.
Our results indicated, however, that these offerings are of limited utility. Rather, American workers said that more traditional benefits, like health insurance (44 percent), paid time off (24 percent) and retirement contributions (14 percent) were the most critical perks after base compensation. Nothing else really seemed to resonate, with even highly useful benefits like onsite daycare and tuition reimbursement mentioned by less than 1 percent of the respondents.
This is significant news for hiring managers, and the most critical lesson is not to forget about the basics. Don’t go so crazy trying to be trendy that you forget, for instance, to closely adhere to new overtime rules. And although medical premiums are rising all the time, hold fast to those benefits. In an uncertain economic and political climate, people need to be able to count on their employers. If you come through for them, you will retain them.
On a related note, our survey also indicated that today’s professionals value employer-provided training opportunities. Employees want the opportunity to improve themselves by learning new skills and training in new functions. Any sized company can provide these experiences, and individuals shouldn’t be afraid to ask for and take advantage of them.
And finally, money still talks. Talented employees know the recession is long over and that companies are back to spending money. If their compensation doesn’t reflect that reality, they will look elsewhere. On a related note, if you are a high-performing employee, do internal and external research to assess the competitiveness of your pay and ensure that you are being paid what you’re worth. You can rest assured that others are doing the same!