Workers’ wish list

Tim Smedley finds out what workers would really like from the office Secret Santa

Many myths surround wha workers want, the main one being that it’s just higher salary and bonuses. While employees want to feel sufficiently financially rewarded, simply increasing pay doesn’t necessarily increase happiness. And in times of economic stagnation, that option isn’t open to many companies. Years of research from organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) show that to improve the morale and productivity of workers companies need to make their working lives better. So just what is the 21st-century workforce asking for this Christmas?

1. Recognition and respect

Recognition can be as literal as the chief executive knowing you by name or simply having your work acknowledged. Employee of the month schemes and annual award ceremonies are helpful but not sufficient says Mike Emmott, CIPD adviser employee relations. “Praise is good but not essential, whereas recognition is – it’s your line manager being aware of what you are doing from day-to-day and acknowledging targets achieved, tasks accomplished.” Similarly Tom O’Byrne, chief executive at consultancy Great Place to Work®, argues: “What workers really want is being treated and valued as a person. Just small touches such as a personal thanks from the boss… mean more job satisfaction.”

2. To work for an organisation they value

If people work for an organisation they believe in they will do more for it, regardless of salary (charities are an example). This may seem tricky if your company resembles Ricky Gervais’ fictional paper company in Slough, but not if you produce recycled paper and give it out free to local schools. Carla Cavanagh, head of research at Best Companies, which runs The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For awards, and advises on workplace engagement, says: “Employees want to feel like they are doing something more worthwhile than lining the coffers of the shareholders. They want to feel their company makes a positive difference.” And according to Mr Emmott, “M&S has a long-held belief that corporate responsibility plays even better with employees than it does with customers.”

3. A clear job description

It may seem an absurdly simple wish, bu1t a clear job description can easily get forgotten as roles evolve and team structures change. Annually re-assessing and agreeing job descriptions and specifications can eradicate resentful suspicions that the employer is making them do too much (or too little), but few companies actually get round to doing so. “People want to be clear about what their job is and what they are supposed to be doing,” says Mr Emmott. “There are quite a lot of people who don’t know the real purpose of their job.”

4. Flexible working

This doesn’t mean time off and more holidays. Ms Cavanagh explains: “Traditional nine-to-five working is losing favour with the majority of employees. Whether it’s commuting pressures, the school run, or simply natural preference, employees want some flexibility around their working hours. Flexitime, time off in lieu, and the option to work from home can all help.” Some companies, such as Cisco Systems, don’t have set working hours at all, measuring employees on output rather than how many minutes after 9am they get to their desk.

5. Time off and more holidays

This one actually does mean time off and more holidays. The strains of “doing more with less”, as organisations shed staff and ask people to take on more job responsibilities, are showing. “Working longer not only impacts on work-life balance and wellbeing, but also impacts how employees feel about their pay and benefits,” says Ms Cavanagh. “Where companies are not in a position to offer pay rises, they should be sensitive to employees’ working hours.” Adding an extra day off over Christmas could give workers vital recuperation time. Allowing time off for volunteering and charity work is also highly valued.

6. Flexible benefits

Where companies offer benefits such as travel cards and gym membership, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for the 21st-century worker. “When it comes to benefits, flexibility is the key here too,” says Ms Cavanagh. “It’s impossible to please all the people all the time, so allowing employees the flexibility to choose the benefits that best fit their circumstances will certainly help.” Make sure there’s enough choice to keep a variety of employees happy.

7. A healthy workplace

As working hours rise along with obesity levels, people are increasingly health conscious – and a healthy workplace makes healthy living far easier. Ms Cavanagh points out: “In many of the ‘best’ companies, employees are provided with free fruit and more companies are offering free healthy breakfasts. This makes people feel their company cares about their wellbeing.” Research by Great Place To Work also finds that employees rate highly health facilities and health club membership in the workplace.

8. Promotion

OK, everyone wants this one – but even the possibility of a promotion is enough. Workers need to feel they are going somewhere and a clear career progression plan is integral to this. Salary caps and even cuts can be accepted in the face of difficult markets, but a halt in career progression cannot. “As there is less movement between companies, employees are looking to see where they can go within their current companies”, says Ms Cavanagh. “Companies that offer better development opportunities have the more engaged employees.”