Work-life balance becoming critical to recruitment and retention

Feb 01 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Almost three-quarters of U.S. employers expect competition for talent to intensify this year, with a growing proportion of employees viewing work-life balance considerations as critical to their decision whether to join – or remain with – an employer.

With nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of all employees changing jobs over the past eighteen months and three-quarters of businesses expecting competition for talent to escalate over the next 18 months, recruitment and retention will be major concerns for employers in 2006, according to the annual MetLife Employee Benefits Trend Study.

Among Young Families with children under the age of six, the job market has been particularly active, the report found, with one in three employees in this life stage reporting a change of employer over the past year-and-a-half.

In this increasingly competitive job market, almost six out of 10 (58 per cent) of employees said that their top consideration when deciding whether to join and/or remain with an employer is the quality of co-worker and/or customer relationships, a figure that rose to 62 per cent of women.

Demand for better work-life balance emerged as the second most important recruitment and retention criterion

But the biggest surprise for employers is the fact that the demand for better work-life balance was almost as big a concern, emerging as the second most important recruitment and retention criterion.

As the study makes clear, gone are the days when new, entry-level employees viewed long hours and seven-day-work-weeks as the price of admission to the executive suite.

More than half (56 per cent) of today's employees rate work-life balance as a key job selection criterion, with a roughly equal percentage of men (56 per cent) and women (58 per cent) saying it was critical factor for them.

And among employees aged between 21 and 30, work-life balance has now become the single most important consideration when deciding whether to join or remain with an employer, even more important than the opportunity for financial growth and advancement or skill building and professional growth.

Another shift in attitudes is evidenced by the fact that more than half (54 per cent) employees – and fully two-thirds of those aged between 61 and 69 - will actively seek to work for an organisation whose purpose or mission they agree with.

At a time when employees are looking to create greater balance between the physical demands of work and life, many are also seeking an inner sense of balance between personal ideals and employer mission, the research suggests.

Significantly, traditional job selection criteria such as the opportunity for financial growth and advancement (cited by 52 per cent) and the opportunity for skill building and professional growth (cited by 51 per cent) represented the least important factors as far as employees were concerned.

Nevertheless, the study also found that the largest companies (with over 25,000 employees) offer the widest array of benefits to their employees, and almost six out of 10 strongly agree that the benefits they offer are an important reason why employees come to work for them.

Large companies are also more likely to offer benefits that guarantee income in retirement. While only a third of all employers currently offer a defined benefit plan - and only one in five offer annuities – these figures jump to 58 per cent and 46 per cent respectively for the largest companies surveyed.

In contrast, small employers with fewer than 50 employees are most likely to pay the full cost of their employees' medical insurance (35 per cent, compared with 16 per cent of companies with 10,000 or more employees).

"To retain top talent in today's competitive job market, employers need to do more than loosen their purse strings," said MetLife's Maria R. Morris.

"They must create a work environment that reflects their employees' life-stage needs and values. As the demand for experienced knowledge-workers intensifies, employers need to understand what motivates - and inspires the loyalty of - today's high-performing employees.

"In most cases, it's not the corner office or a large paycheck, but rather, the opportunity to work for a company that fosters strong workplace relationships and inspires a sense of balance and/or purpose."