Employees Value Meaningful Work More Than High Pay, Survey Shows

Workhuman advocates "humanity and emotional intelligence at work" in annual workforce survey.

Don't believe what you hear in the media: Robots aren't going to replace humans in the workplace anytime soon. And that means that companies must continue to invest heavily in attracting and retaining human talent. So argues performance management company Workhuman, which this week published a report summarizing the results of its annual workforce survey.

"Technology may take over the more menial tasks, but that's opening up even more opportunities for companies to leverage the previously untapped creativity and innovation of people -- to prioritize humanity and emotional intelligence at work," reads the report, in which Workhuman argues that company's have a responsibility to secure a future for human workers by creating workplaces that cater to their needs. "For humans to thrive, companies need to double down on programs and human applications that enhance trust, appreciation, respect, gratitude, autonomy and equity."

Titled The Future of Work is Human, the survey was produced in partnership with the Workhuman Analytics & Research Institute (WARI), which asked more than 3,500 people in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland what they want from their employers. The results were surprising: When WARI asked them what is the most important thing to have in their job or employer, workers' No. 1 answer for the third consecutive year was meaningful work, which placed ahead of a fun team, a positive company culture, supportive management, and even compensation and perks.

"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," WARI reports. "When accounting for a person's position in the organization, the data suggests that the higher up a person goes in their organization, the more important meaningful work becomes on average. Meaningful work is most important across all age brackets."

Meaningful work correlates closely with job satisfaction, according to WARI. "If the future of work is human, it's in your organization's best interest to appeal to your employees' emotional connection to their work and the company's mission. And one of the best indicators of that emotional investment is the answer to the question, 'Would you recommend working at your organization to a friend or colleague?'" continues the report, which found that workers are more than two times as likely to recommend a friend when they agree that the work at their organization has meaning and purpose, nearly three times as likely to recommend a friend when their personal values align with their company's mission/values, and more than four times as likely to love their jobs when they report having a sense of meaning and purpose.

It's not just meaning that matters, however. It's also freedom, communication and recognition. Consider, for example, other key findings:

• Employees' most coveted benefit is remote/flexible work (41 percent), followed by health-care coverage (27 percent), employee recognition programs (6 percent), free food (6 percent) and an office gym (6 percent). Referral bonuses (4 percent), on-the-job training (4 percent), parental leave (2 percent), tuition reimbursement (2 percent) and wellness programs (2 percent) are employees' least favorite benefits.

• At companies that have been through a merger or acquisition in the last year, workers who have been recognized in the last month are nearly twice as likely to trust in their company's leadership team.

•  For the fourth consecutive year, the number of companies conducting annual or semiannual reviews has fallen. In 2016, 82 percent of workers said their company used an annual review; that number dropped to 65 percent in 2017, 58 percent in 2018 and 54 percent this year.

• Workers who check in with their manager weekly are five times less likely to be disengaged.

• The No. 1 thing workers want their managers to do is show more appreciation (31 percent), followed by focusing more on their career growth (19 percent), giving them more independence (15 percent), focusing more on their learning and development (14 percent), and having more frequent one-on-ones and check-ins (8 percent).

• More than half of employees (51 percent) say their last work anniversary was not acknowledged. Among those whose anniversaries were acknowledged, 53 percent said the acknowledgement made them feel nothing.

WARI also examined workforce diversity and found that 25 percent of employees have felt discriminated against at work, but that building a culture of gratitude and recognition can increase employees' feelings of belonging by 21 percent.

Concludes the report, "The future is bright for organizations that leverage human applications to build up gratitude, empower employees to drive their own development and take an unapologetic stance toward greater equity for all."