Employers Undervalue What Keeps Employees Onboard

Aside from fair pay, top factors for attracting/retaining talent are career advancement, job security and trust

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS September 21, 2016
Employers Undervalue What Keeps Employees Onboard

Employers and employees don't always see eye to eye on what it takes to win over candidates and convince them to stay. Misunderstanding the "employee value proposition" can keep employers from finding and keeping the best workers.

For employees, the top three factors in deciding what organization to work for—and remain at—are fair pay, career advancement opportunities and job security, a summary of research findings by Willis Towers Watson reveals.

The consultancy's 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards, and Global Workforce Studies report, released in September, draws on responses from 2,004 companies worldwide (441 in the U.S.) and more than 31,000 employees around the world (3,105 in the U.S.). The two surveys were conducted earlier this year.

"To address engagement and turnover issues as well as accompanying productivity risks, it's critical for employers to understand employee expectations and preferences," report authors wrote, ranking employee priorities as shown below.

Employees' Top Attraction and Retention Priorities


Attraction Drivers


Retention Drivers
1Base pay/salaryBase pay/salary
2Job securityCareer advancement opportunities
3Career advancement opportunitiesPhysical work environment
4Challenging workJob security
5Opportunities to learn new skillsAbility to manage work-related stress
6Reputation of the organizationRelationship with supervisor/manager
7Health and wellness benefitsTrust/confidence in senior leadership

Source: Willis Towers Watson, 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards, and Global Workforce Studies.

While employee perceptions of fair pay are an obvious driver of talent attraction and retention, managers and workers are not aligned regarding other job priorities, as discussed below.

Advancement Opportunities

The importance of chances to move up the organizational ladder aren't fully recognized by management, even though employers say they view career advancement as a top priority, the study found.

Over a third of workers cited opportunities to advance as a key reason to join a company and to leave, but only 4 in 10 indicated their employer does a good job of providing advancement opportunities, while nearly half said they would need to leave their organization to progress in their careers.

Yet, from the employers' perspective, more than half (58 percent) believe they are effective at providing traditional career advancement opportunities.

"Employers may be painting a more bullish picture on career advancement opportunities than their employees perceive," said Laura Sejen, a director in Willis Towers Watson's New York office, who leads the rewards practice globally. "In many cases, employers' positive view on these opportunities may be a reflection of an improving economy rather than better career management practices," she noted. "Given the high percentage of employees who say they need to leave their current employer to advance their career, there is a clear misalignment between employers and employees on this question."

"Marketing promotional opportunities as an attraction tool is an area that is not being taken advantage of," said Kerry Chou, senior practice leader at WorldatWork, an association of total rewards professionals in Scottsdale, Ariz. He cited research by the association that showed "a full 64 percent of organizations do not market promotional opportunities as a key benefit when recruiting for new talent."

Job Security

Employees' confidence that they won't lose their jobs was the second-most frequently cited reason employees join a company and the fourth-most frequently cited reason they would choose to leave their organization, according to Willis Towers Watson's findings. As regards retention, a common employee perspective could be described as:

"I feel I'm vulnerable to being let go, so I'd better jump ship while I'm still employed since it's much easier to get a job when you have a job, everyone says, and I don't want to find myself without a paycheck."

Yet employers failed to rank job security among the top retention drivers.

"There's a clear disconnect between employers and employees regarding the value of job security as both an attraction and retention driver," the report states.

To compete for employees who value job security, it's essential to understand what these employees are actually worried about, the report notes. For many employees, "job security is a proxy for financial concerns, their own ability to handle changes or an expression of employees' support for the current direction of their organization. Organizations can address employee needs in these areas without unrealistic promises of guaranteed jobs," the report advises.

For example, employees' concerns can be eased as follows:

  • Fears about job loss: Advance career security through training to remain relevant.

  • Concerns about changes being made to their jobs: Provide performance management that helps employees to adapt to changing workplace needs.

  • Worries about the aftermath of losing their paycheck: Offer programs to help employees with budgeting and financial planning.

Economy Affects Job Security Perceptions

The Society for Human Resource Management's 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement report, based on a survey of U.S. employees conducted in November and December 2015, found that nearly one-half (48 percent) of employees had some level of concern about the security of their job, and another 45 percent said there was some degree of likelihood that they would look for work outside of their organization within the next 12 months.

"It is undeniable that compensation/pay, benefits and job security all shape the degree to which employees are satisfied; however, it is also noteworthy to mention that the extent of their importance fluctuates as a result of external factors such as changing economic conditions," SHRM's analysts observed. For instance, "in leaner times with low employment growth, workers tend to stay put and place high value on job security, even if they are not particularly happy with their positions. Conversely, during labor market expansions, more workers gain confidence in their prospects and seek career opportunities with other organizations."

Trust in Leadership

Finally, the Willis Towers Watson study identified senior leadership as a top driver of sustained employee engagement, defined as the intensity of employees' connection to their organization. However, there are some stark warning flags for organizations, as nearly half of employees don't trust their senior leaders:

  • Only 44 percent of employees believe their senior leadership has a sincere interest in their well-being, while 48 percent say they have trust and confidence in the job being done by senior leaders.

  • Only half believe the information they receive from senior leaders.

"Employees' perception of their senior leaders is a key influencer in their decision to stay with or leave an organization," the report concludes. "It is essential for organizations to address shortfalls in key aspects of leadership in order to craft a meaningful [employee value proposition] and relevant employee experience."

Related SHRM Article:

Missing the Mark, Benefits Spending Is Undervalued by Employees, SHRM Online Benefits, September 2016



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.