Thinking differently about what workers want

26 August 2020
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The COVID-19 crisis has done little to slow the increasing appetite for flexibility among UK workers. While the transition to remote working has brought many challenges – balancing work and parental responsibilities, maintaining our mental health – it’s a change that many workers have embraced, and one that has them stating their claim for more flexibility in future. But how does flexibility stack up against the other factors when deciding on a role – a good salary, career progression opportunities, or working towards a strong societal purpose?

We know from our research and the hundreds of thousands of people we put to work each year that what workers want varies by age, gender and geography, yet the biggest determinant is where someone is in their career lifecycle. This crisis has accelerated the move to understand what workers want, and in many cases there may be no going back. Now is the time for employers to think differently about what they offer, starting with the opportunity to blend work and home and creating clear career pathways to in-demand jobs.

According to our What Workers Want data, the results are varied:

  • GEN ZS (AGE 18–24) Gen Zs are ambitious, hungry for cash and career development. Women and men have differing priorities. When looking for a job, women look for competitive pay twice as much as their next priority – flexible hours – while men say a strong brand and diversity are most important.
  • MILLENNIALS (AGE 25–34) Millennials want more pay, flexibility and challenging work. They understand they have a career ultramarathon ahead of them and want to achieve a One Life balance for the long run.
  • YOUNGER XERS (AGE 35–44) Young Xers start to see balance kick in. Men prioritise flexibility as much as women. They want a flexible start and finish to their day, the ability to work remotely some, if not all of the time, and they want their share of parental leave.
  • BOOMERS (AGE 55+) Boomers are also driven by pay, challenging work and flexibility. The boss they work for and the people they work with matter a great deal too. Older workers want to pay it forward: those over 65 are also motivated by purpose.

What does this mean for businesses?

Work has literally left the building. For years we’ve heard the growing chorus of calls for more flexibility, while maintaining productivity, and this has been realised overnight. We predict offering remote work will continue to be the fastest rising non-wage benefit: people value it and it’s cost effective for companies. The organisations that demonstrate they live their values and deliver on their purpose, especially in these challenging times, will be those that attract, retain and motivate the best skilled talent for future growth. Leadership has been redefined. Leadership today needs to be in service of the emotional and physical wellbeing of people first, and then in service of the business. This isn’t just your direct team; this is everyone. Ask yourself: what is it that you can uniquely bring? No-one has a playbook for this. Agility and authenticity are key.


What does this mean for workers?

Performance finally outweighs presenteeism; the way work gets done has had to shift to accommodate children being out of school and family members needing more support. We are increasingly living One Life (that blends work and home) at one time. Before this global pandemic, flexibility was growing in favour and part-time work was on the rise, enabling companies to manage their balance sheets and people to better blend work with home and other interests. The proportion of part-time roles have almost doubled and demand for contractors is on the rise.

Keep your focus on women and diverse groups that might be negatively impacted by the pandemic. In the UK, women and ethnic minority groups have historically been the most impacted by rapid rises in unemployment. Employers need to work hard to avoid re-marginalising those that have worked hard to engage – women, parents, carers, older workers and other underrepresented groups.

If you’re interested in learning more about candidate preference and the latest from the world of work, please find the eleventh edition of our Human Age newspaper: https://www.manpowergroup.co.uk/the-word-on-work/human-age-eleventh-edition/