New Research Shows Disconnect Between What Employees Want and What HR Thinks They Want

A new view of what today's job seekers are looking for provides insights on how to attract, recruit, and retain employees.

With a name like the “Great Resignation,” the pandemic-driven mass turnover of employees searching for more rewarding work suggests human resources (HR) leaders should be having no problems finding fresh talent to fill their ranks. But that’s not the case.

A staggering 95% of businesses are struggling to fill positions, and it’s about more than just a shortage of workers. While there are currently more open positions in the U.S. than there are unemployed workers to fill them, professionals are choosing to switch career paths and demanding better pay and benefits—slowing down hiring even further.

That begs the question: What does the modern job seeker really want? To find out, we conducted an employee sentiment survey of 1,600 employees across roles and industries about what they value in their workplace as well as over 200 HR professionals about what they think job seekers are looking for. While the differences were mild, they did signal that HR leaders have to find new ways to stay on top of employees’ changing needs. What’s clear is it’s time to consider new approaches to hiring and backing up those efforts with better HR technology so you can both attract new talent and retain existing employees.

Give Job Seekers and Employees What They’re Looking For

The bad news from our survey is that there’s a disconnect between what HR professionals think matters most to employees and what actually does. This disconnect means many HR teams may be missing the mark on what candidates really want from their employer.

On the bright side, HR leaders can help control many of the three factors job seekers are looking for: higher compensation, a good manager, and a safe working environment are the biggest things workers are looking for in a new position.

What does this mean, and how can recruiting and retention efforts be adjusted to fit employee priorities? Let’s dive deeper.

1. Employees Want Competitive Compensation and Benefits

It should come as no surprise that both employees and employers said total compensation—the sum of all monetized benefits an employee receives—is the most important workplace value for job seekers. Beyond pay, 45% of employees indicated that having high-quality health insurance is the most crucial benefit.

While HR doesn’t always have direct influence over salaries or pay grades, there are tactics that aren’t necessarily about higher paychecks. Ensuring compensation practices are fair, transparent, and support employees’ financial wellbeing is just as important as total pay — and it will help support long-term retention too.

To attract job seekers and keep current employees, consider following these compensation-related best practices:

  • Provide compensation transparency. When listing job descriptions, employers should work with HR to provide upfront salary ranges and total compensation including benefits. This will help ensure candidates aren’t surprised or frustrated later in the interviewing process, and some states may require this for compliance purposes. Automated Total Rewards Statements are another way to provide pay transparency to current employees by showing them the full value of their compensation and benefits.
  • Make data-based, employee-specific pay decisions. Lean on compensation data and analysis to pay your employees fairly and accurately. Compensation management tools can compare your pay levels to market averages to ensure competitiveness, identify high-performing employees eligible for a raise or bonus, and share employee-facing statements detailing the full value of total compensation and benefits.
  • Offer early access to earned wages. Help support employee financial wellness by offering on-demand pay as a benefit. On demand pay provides employees flexible access to a portion of earned wages before payday and can help improve employee satisfaction. Seventy-nine percent of employees would switch employers if they could get access to on-demand pay, while 89% of workers would stay at their current company longer just for the benefit.

2. Employees Are Looking For Manager Engagement

Employees ranked having a good manager as their number two priority, with workers over 45 valuing this slightly more than younger peers. However, HR professionals ranked it lower, indicating employers may not emphasize management enough during the recruiting process or equip managers with the tools needed for success.

A good manager has always been important, but the shift to hybrid work environments has only made it more difficult for managers to recognize employee progress, track workloads, foster relationships, and foster growth.

To help managers be successful in a remote environment while also appealing to candidates during the application process, consider adopting these modern HR practices:

  • Incorporate managers into the hiring process. During the interview process, let candidates know exactly who they will be working with if hired. While it may not be possible to give candidates face time with everyone they will report to, incorporating pre-recorded videos during the application process (like in an interview or on job postings) can offer a human touch that appeals to candidates.
  • Set managers up for success. It’s crucial to equip managers with the tools to support direct reports. Performance management tools can help managers easily document employee goals, track ongoing progress, conduct fair and transparent performance reviews, and open up productive two-way conversations. Also, a strong Learning Management System (LMS) can support managers and their teams alike to level up their leadership and communications skills.

3. Employees Want a Safe and Inclusive Workplace

Overall, workers ranked a safe work environment as their third-highest priority—and it’s becoming increasingly important for younger workers aged 18-29. HR professionals slightly overestimated the importance of workplace safety to employees, ranking it as the number one most desired value along with compensation. Considering HR professionals have been responsible for maintaining safe working conditions for employees during the public health crisis, it makes sense workplace safety is top of mind.

The term workplace safety has expanded in recent years beyond physical safety to creating a safe environment where employees bring their whole selves to work and feel valued. HR must make sure they aren’t focusing too narrowly on physical health when supporting employee wellbeing. Employees are also looking for an inclusive and welcoming environment where they feel comfortable sharing ideas, admitting mistakes, and challenging the status quo.

Here are a few tips to help promote an emotionally safe environment that will support current employees and appeal to job seekers:

  • Practice inclusive recruiting. To promote an inclusive culture for job seekers, embed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices into the recruiting process. Make sure your applicant tracking system (ATS) helps applicants represent themselves accurately by offering ample terms for self-identification as recommended by the Human Capital Institute. Additionally, many ATS systems can mask certain candidate details to limit bias during the application process.
  • Encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion training. To ensure your culture and employees support a diverse workforce, offer ample DEI training. Many human capital management (HCM) platforms and learning management systems offer courses, modules, and instructional kits on various DEI-related topics like unconscious bias and microaggressions.
  • Create a culture of recognition. Increase employee engagement and satisfaction by creating an employee recognition program. Employee recognition software empowers workers to celebrate each other anytime, anywhere, helping boost feelings of inclusion and community.

The Power to Attract Job Seekers and Reduce Turnover Is In Your Hands

Good pay, engaged managers, and workplace safety aren’t new priorities for employees, but the modern workforce has given them a new shape. There’s fresh talent in the market that’s in search of a workplace where they can truly feel valued — and thankfully, you have control over many of the factors that create the environment they’re after.

With the right technology, resources, and best practices, you can make your workforce resignation-resistant and create an environment workers flock to.

For more tips and best practices, check out our ebook outlining Must-Learn Lessons from the Pandemic.