Can employers really be sure that they understand what their employees want? Survey after survey shows that most employees would choose quality of life over money in their jobs. However are these results an accurate reflection of your workforce’s general mood and aspirations? This question was prompted by Brook Street’s latest survey of over 1,000 workers in London in which more than half of respondents (55%) said that their quality of life at workplace is more important than financial benefits. However, despite this trend, employees that were surveyed rated financial rewards well above those that are meant to improve the quality of life, such as flexible working hours or comprehensive benefit schemes.

The survey, as part of our Survive & Thrive programme ( found that many more people would move jobs for a better wage (54%) than they would for flexible working hours or other benefits. In fact, only 1 in 10 workers said they would switch jobs to have flexi-time and even less, only 4%, said that they would change jobs for a more comprehensive benefit scheme. On top of that, 7 in 10 employees who were surveyed said that they would expect higher pay and 6 in 10 would expect a promotion from a new employer. Only a third of workers said that would expect a comprehensive benefit package in a new role. 

What is clear from this study is that what employees say they want might not always be what they really want, or more precisely, what really motivates them. This presents a real challenge for businesses. In times when budgets are cut and options are limited, how do employers ensure that they invest in the right solution for their business? Is there a risk that organisations spend a considerable amount of money investing in various benefit schemes, only for workers to then walk out of the door within two months because they get offered a better pay package elsewhere?

Sadly, the answer is yes – so it’s important to think about how you might mitigate this risk. The HR function really needs to get closer to the workforce and understand employees’ motivations; not doing so can be very costly. What employees tell you they want and what they really need can be different so take time to understand their motivations, what keeps them in the organisation and what might temp them to look elsewhere. It’s crucial that HR professionals work closely with other operations within the organisation as well as external suppliers to get a clear picture. For example, recruitment specialists can reveal a lot about candidates’ mind set, what they are looking for in an employer and why they want to leave their current job. Often it’s not the same story that businesses have in mind. Recruiters can also act as business partners not only helping to fill the roles but also advising on creative retention strategies. Employers should make sure that they speak to their local recruiter rather than just looking at national websites and studies. The differences from area to area can be stark and it’s important to understand the tendencies of people in each region to apply the best solution.

It’s also important that the HR function doesn’t work in isolation but alongside line managers and the internal communications department, for example. While HR managers’ ‘to do’ lists are filled with policies, strategies and planning, they might lose touch with what is really happening in their organisations. Keeping a regular check on the day-to-day running of the business will help HR managers to keep their strategies relevant.

As our survey showed, employees are not always clear about their priorities and companies need to work harder to really understand their staff to keep them happy and engaged. HR practitioners need to become a lot more interactive with the workforce and look for innovative solutions that will bring right balance between financial rewards and incentives that will improve workers’ the quality of life.