Building a happier workforce

Our Workforce 2020 data shows that employees across industries and regions are largely unsatisfied with their jobs, in terms of everything from compensation to leadership and development opportunities.

While satisfaction levels do vary country to country, fewer than half of employees surveyed in every region say they are happy with their job.

SAP Workforce satisfaction around the world

What is at stake for businesses that don’t do what it takes to keep their employees satisfied?

SAP Worforce high-performing

Companies are at risk of losing their best employees. And those who do stay in their current job despite their dissatisfaction are will likely not be the best workers—many workers we surveyed say higher compensation, better benefits, and more development opportunities would increase their loyalty and engagement with their current job.

To keep the top employees around and inspire other workers to be their best, executives need to make a point of listening to their wants and needs. Figuring out what matters most to workers will go a long way in building a strong culture, ramping up recruitment, and keeping everyone at the company loyal and engaged.

For more on what makes employees happy, check out our webinar on “What Matters Most at Work” on-demand.

Searching for satisfaction at work

The more we think about the results of our workforce strategy surveys, the more we realize the significance of the numbers. This data is personal; each stat represents the feelings of a real employee, and each key theme mirrors a thought we’ve all had about our job at one point or another.

It’s no surprise then that these issues are in the news—the search for job satisfaction is important to all of us, and whether or not we find it has the power to change not only our own lives, but also the success of broader companies and economies.

So what does a great place to work really look like? We’ve revealed some of our own strategies over the past few months on this blog. For another take, check out this recent article from Tony Schwartz.

Making resolutions for 2015

As we make resolutions for the upcoming year, we should look to make ourselves happier and more productive at work. This article from FastCompany suggests ten ways we can all be better—and more satisfied—employees in 2015.

Stand out in crowd

On their list of to-dos? Replace your bragging about number of hours worked with your level of efficiency, be open about what you need from your boss and other employees, and give and receive feedback gracefully, among others.

And if you’re looking to be a better boss in the year ahead, check out this list of leadership resolutions for 2015, too.

Do high performers have different wants and needs?

With our survey data, we broke out data for high performers—employees who were ranked highly in their last performance review—from average and low performers. Karie Willyerd, the co-author of The 2020 Workplace:How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today and a valuable partner in this research project, recently published an article on what these high performers want at work.

How prepared are companies to meet the needs of their best workers? How satisfied are these employees today? According to Karie:

As you would expect, high performers as compared to low performers are more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to leave their jobs in the next six months. But in looking deeply into high performers specifically, you’ll see that the numbers aren’t as comforting as we’d hoped…one in five high performers are likely to leave in the next six months (versus one in four of employees overall who are likely to leave in the near term), and less than half are satisfied with their jobs.

You can read the full article at HBR—read it and join the discussion here.

Using vacation days is good for everyone

Over the past few months, we have talked a lot about what benefits and incentives matter most to employees. Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees are focused on competitive compensation and other cash-based rewards. But what about the benefits that employees need, but don’t rank as highly?

While vacation days are ranked lower on the list of benefits most important to employee satisfaction, we hear in the news over and over how important it is for employees to recharge out of the office—and how difficult it is to actually take that time. In fact, a recent Oxford Economics study finds that American workers lose 169 million days of paid time off each year. Yet our analysis reveals no clear payoff for employees for sacrificing their time off, as workers who do so are not more likely to get pay raises.

Using paid vacation days is good for everyone. Not only is it beneficial to employees’ health and productivity, it also allow the company to learn to function in their absence, says Megan McArdle in this article from Bloomberg. This raises some questions for management: How can companies ensure that employees are getting away from the office? What can employers do to create a culture that encourages taking well-earned time off?

The Millennial Misunderstanding

Much has been said about what Millennials want most from work, but our research suggests that some of these ideas are not entirely accurate. It’s not that softer benefits like finding personal meaning in work don’t matter to Millennials, but that these things matter as much or more to older workers. In fact, it may be that non-Millennials are the group that’s more misunderstood.

Millennial myths Oct 27

Millennials and older workers place the same value on most workplace benefits and incentives. For both groups, competitive compensation is the most important factor in determining job satisfaction.

Millennial priorities October 27

But our surveys do reveal one substantial difference between Millennials and older workers—the younger people expect more feedback. In fact, they expect feedback 50% more often than other employees. They are also more likely to say they get their professional development from formal training at work, and less likely to say they use self-directed learning.

So while companies should offer the same benefits and incentives to all employees, they should understand that their younger employees require extra help in terms of feedback and development.

The loyalty paradox

Executives say they value loyalty in employees—but the realities in the workplace are more complicated.

Our global surveys reveal misunderstandings between employees and executives over what is most important at work. While there are substantial variances by country, executives overall value loyalty in their employees more than job performance. And while employees believe the ability to learn and be trained quickly is the most important quality to their bosses, executives say the most important quality is a high level of education or institutional training.

Executive survey: What employee attributes are most important to you? Choose top 3.Employee attributes - Oct 13

Executives are not only more likely to rank loyalty among top employee attributes than qualities like diversity and leadership ability, they also cite lack of employee longevity and loyalty as a leading barrier to meeting strategic workforce goals. Despite these concerns, they do not seem to know—or are not focused on—how to engender loyalty, given that in most cases they are not offering the benefits and incentives most important to employees.

But loyalty is a two-way street. Employees focused on career development can show their managers and higher-ups commitment to the company through self-directed learning and other development initiatives. These efforts to learn and grow will show managers when employees are committed to moving up in the company—and in the meantime, they might assuage some fears of obsolescence.

Millennials are different, but not as different as companies think

Executives are concerned about Millennials entering the workforce, yet they aren’t making any special plans for managing them. Although 51% of executives say Millennials entering the workforce significantly affects workforce strategy, fewer than one-third of executives say they are giving special attention to their particular wants and needs.

And perhaps they don’t need to: There are many myths about what Millennials want most from work—which is not so different from what non-Millennials want.

Millennial myths Oct 6

But while Millennials have many of the same wants and needs at work as their older coworkers, they do need be managed differently, in terms of feedback and development. Nearly one-third of Millennials say they expect more feedback on their performance than they currently receive—and they want it more often than non-Millennials.

You can read more about Millennials in our research report, and this article from the Wall Street Journal.

What matters most at work?

Executives say they value loyalty and long-term commitment ahead of employee attributes like leadership ability and even job performance. Yet they are not doing what they should to foster loyalty among employees, particularly in regards to the benefits and incentives that are most important to their workforce.

When it comes to satisfied employees, cash is king. Competitive compensation and bonuses/merit-based rewards rank highest among employees—other benefits are far less important. But only 39% of executives say their company offers competitive compensation.

What Matters Most at Work - Sept 22

Some companies may be focusing their efforts incorrectly. Headline-grabbing amenities like recreational facilities and laundry services are not highly important to employees—only 39% say these amenities are important, and companies may want to rethink spending money on them to better focus their engagement efforts.

If executives want employees to demonstrate commitment to the company, they should make an effort to determine which benefits are most important to them. The loyalty that they will engender as a result will likely have sweeping effects on talent development and succession planning, ultimately leaving companies better-prepared for the future workforce.

2020 Workforce news roundup

Working Anything but 9 to 5 (The New York Times): For hourly employees, the uncertainty of the next week’s schedule can create chaos at home—especially for those with families.

7 Ways to Become Your Boss’ Dream Employee (Time): A relationship with a manager can be the key to success at work—and cultivating a good one starts with working to make your boss successful.

5 Simple Office Policies That Make Danish Workers Way More Happy Than Americans (FastCompany): Danish employees may be more likely to be satisfied and engaged with their jobs because of better working hours, more autonomy, and constant training, among other factors.

Would You Hire Your Hacker? (Wired): After a college student hacked into a popular messaging app, the co-founder of the company hired him on a freelance basis, recognizing that a good hacker has security expertise. Companies should consider creative hiring methods like this one—but be wary of potential consequences.