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Employees cite meaningful work as more important to than compensation and perks, according to a new survey by the Workhuman Analytics and Research Institute.

The survey, which polled more than 3,500 full-time employees in Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and U.S., asked employees to rank five factors from the most to least important to their careers. Meaningful work trumped all other factors with an average rating of 3.5 out of five across all age groups. Compensation and perks came in second with a 3.1 average, followed by supportive managers (3.0), positive company culture (2.8) and a fun team (2.6). 

“Meaningful work is about shared purpose — connecting the day-to-day tasks to a greater company mission that’s fully aligned with one’s personal values,” noted the survey.

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Survey respondents over the age of 65 ranked meaningful work the highest of all age groups, at an average of 3.8. On the other hand, employees between the ages of 18 to 24 ranked a supportive manager as the second most important factor, with an average 3.1 ranking. And workers between the ages of 35 to 44, 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 cited compensation and perks as their second most important factor (at 3.2, 3.3 and 3.3, respectively).

Further, the survey found 88 per cent of employees who felt their personal values aligned with their company’s would recommend it to a friend. In comparison, just 32 per cent of people who said their values didn’t align with their company’s would recommend it to a friend.

The survey also found 21 per cent of respondents said they’re currently looking for a new job, but in Canada that number is higher, at 26 per cent.

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“In this job-seeker’s market, employees are actively seeking out more human-focused work environments where they have an emotional connection to their work and their company’s mission,” said Eric Mosley, chief executive officer of Workhuman, in a press release. “As humans are very much at the heart of the future of work, companies must focus on their workers’ core human needs and double down on inspiring meaningful work where employees feel recognized, respected and empowered to do the best work of their lives.”

In terms of workplace perks, 41 per cent of survey respondents said the ability to work remotely and/or flexibly is the most important, followed by health-care coverage (27 per cent), employee recognition programs (seven per cent), free food (six per cent) and office gyms (six per cent). The list was rounded out by on-the-job training (four per cent), referral bonuses (four per cent), parental leave (two per cent), tuition reimbursement (two per cent) and wellness programs (two per cent).

The survey found employees want more recognition for career milestones. More than half (51 per cent) said their last work anniversary wasn’t acknowledged, with that number rising to 53 per cent for employees who’ve been at their company for more than eight years. Even employers that are acknowledging milestones may be missing the mark, as 64 per cent of employees said their last service anniversary didn’t make them feel a renewed commitment to their company and 53 per cent said the experience made them feel “nothing at all.”

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In order of preference, employees said they’d want career milestones to include shared memories and congratulations from co-workers and managers, private congratulations from their manager, public congratulations from their manager and being the guest of honour at an event.

In terms of what employees would like to see from their managers, 31 per cent said they wish their manager would show more appreciation, 19 per cent said they want their manager to focus on their career growth and 15 per cent want more independence. A focus on employees’ learning and development (14 per cent) and more frequent check-ins (eight per cent) also ranked as important.

Regular check-ins seemed to correlate with higher engagement, as workers who had at least weekly check-ins with a manager were more than two-times as likely to trust and respect their manager as employees who never had check-ins. They were also five-times less likely to be disengaged and twice as likely to believe they can develop in their company.

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The survey also included questions on discrimination in the workplace. It found:

  • One in four workers (26 per cent) said they’ve felt discriminated against over the course of their career. More than half (52 per cent) said they felt it was because of their age, followed by gender identity (30 per cent), race (29 per cent), political views (20 per cent) and sexual orientation (nine per cent).
  • Women middle (32 per cent) or senior (31 per cent) managers were most likely to say they experienced discrimination in the workplace.
  • More than half of women in middle management (51 per cent) and front-line management (53 per cent) roles said a manager had taken credit for their work.
  • Experiences of discrimination varied across industries. All women (100 per cent) in hospitality said they felt hiring and promotion decisions were based on gender and/or race. Half of those in information technology (50 per cent) said the same, followed by those in industrial positions (46 per cent), transportation (43 per cent) and technology (43 per cent).

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