The spiraling cost of living, an increasingly unaffordable housing market, and stagnant wages in big Canadian cities might lead anyone to assume that salary is the most important factor when it comes to what employees want in a job. If you’re an employer who is looking to attract talent, the opposite might be true.

Certainly, a competitive salary is a key factor for job-seekers and employees, but other variables are currently taking precedence. In the past, an employee might seek a raise above all else, or a candidate might choose a position almost solely based on salary. Now, people are asking themselves the following:

How long is the daily commute to this job?
What is the nature of the position?
What kinds of people will I be working with?
What are the health benefits, and does the company encourage healthy living?
What kind of facilities and amenities will be available to me?
What is the parental leave policy?
Are the hours flexible?
What are the vacation and ‘personal days’ policies?
How much, and what kind of travel is involved?
What kind of impact does this company have on society?
What kind of impact will I have on this company and, ultimately, on the world?

In 2019, quality of life is taking precedence over salary alone. Not only is work-life balance something nearly everyone strives for, but having meaningful and intellectually stimulating work is equally important. A survey of over 2000 participants called “The Quest for Meaningful Work” shed some light on worker’s deep disdain for the banal tasks typically associated with office jobs. A few interesting findings:

  • 45% of respondents said they’d rather clean a bathroom than calculate HR benefits.
  • 58% said they wish their work was more meaningful.
  • 37% said they’d rather sit in traffic than fix a broken printer.

It’s clear that employees no longer accept feeling like a cog in a system in exchange for payment. They want to be challenged, and for their roles to evolve over time. It’s obvious that repetitive tasks would bore just about anybody, but nowadays, it seems employees abhor these tasks more than ever – but don’t call them lazy.

People want to know that their lives have meaning, and want to work hard on projects that have a positive social impact. They also want to feel their best while doing so, and to avoid the kind of burn-out and issues featured in Dilbert comics. Simply put, most people are willing to work hard, but not if it means working in a toxic environment and totally giving up their personal lives – not for any salary.

There are a few socio-cultural and economic phenomena that could explain this shift in workplace needs. Rather than chalk it up to “millennial laziness” and the need to feel “comfortable and special”, here are a few reasons employees seek work/life balance, flexibility, and more meaningful work:

Double income families

Since the 1980’s, more and more women with children (and without) work full-time jobs. There are numerous reasons for this including the desire to have a career, but more importantly, the sheer necessity for two incomes in order to raise a family. The increasing costs of living and soaring real estate prices mean that most Canadian families need both parents to work in order to make ends meet.

This situation is driving a greater need for good parental leave – not just maternity leave – policies (many men want to spend quality time with their children, too). Because of this, an increasing number of employees would rather work for a company that offers flexible work hours that allow them to raise a family, rather than a company that pays more but offers less support for families.

A better understanding of health and mental wellness

It is unclear if mental illness is more prevalent now compared to 30 years ago, or if people are simply more aware of health and wellbeing. Either way, people today have a better understanding that health is important, and that includes getting enough sleep, exercise, and time to unwind.

Companies that encourage healthy living by partnering up with gyms or that offer exercise facilities can address this need. They can also encourage employees to get the sleep they need by creating an environment that praises the quality of work, and not the quantity of hours spent at the office.

Not only can employers attract more talent by offering a healthy work environment, but they can also prevent absenteeism by providing progressive health care benefits and by promoting healthy living.

The “woke” era

Our oceans are filled with plastic, we’re chopping down trees, we’re ignoring our most vulnerable citizens, and some drug companies are charging too much for life-saving drugs (even in Canada). It’s no longer impossible to ignore our society’s problems, and many employees want to work for employers who are part of the solution, not the problem.

In fact, a recent survey revealed that nearly 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability. In another study, 88% of the millennials surveyed said their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.

Not all companies can directly link their business to saving the world, but they can indeed attract employees by espousing socially responsible values. They can also consistently share their company vision, bring teams together, and help employees have a better understanding of their impact on their customers and society at large.

What employees want in a job will evolve constantly, and it’s not always easy for employers to keep up. Perhaps bean bag chairs, succulent plants, and Zumba memberships are tended that will come and go, but rest assured that some things won’t, such as treating employees like human beings, being empathetic, and allowing employees to spend adequate time with their families and friends outside of the workplace.

Miriam Groom is VP of Sales and Marketing at Groom and Associates, a Canadian recruitment agency specialized in headhunting and executive search. Miriam brings a new perspective and skill set to Groom and Associates as a second generation of senior management in the Groom organization. Miriam has experience with a wide range of clients, from small high growth organizations to some of the largest global organizations. Miriam has a degree in Commerce with a concentration in Finance from the John Molson School of Business.

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