Decoding Global Talent

Decoding Global Talent

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Decoding Global Talent

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    Job Preferences: The Growing Importance of “Softer” Factors

    One of the survey’s more striking findings has to do with what makes all respondents—not just those willing to move abroad—happy on the job. The survey provides compelling evidence that workers are putting more emphasis on intrinsic rewards and less on compensation.

    Globally, the most important single job element for all people is appreciation for their work. (See Exhibits 8 and 9.) To Tarik Aboussahel, 38, this is a basic human need. “What you do is what you are and what you are is what you do,” says Moqtad, who works as a logistics supervisor at a paint company in his native Morocco. “You must be appreciated.”



    When people feel appreciated, their job satisfaction skyrockets. Dina Kiseleva, a 37-year-old interpreter from Russia, recalls the accolades she received when working as an English teacher at a university language center in Bangkok. “I was performing my job well, and they [the university administration] immediately started rewarding me—telling me I was a top-ten teacher and giving me the student groups and extra groups I wanted. My bosses had a really positive attitude toward me. I felt very appreciated and excited.”

    Workplace Relationships

    Along with appreciation for one’s work, good relationships in the workplace—whether with colleagues or with superiors—are critically important. “I really like that teamwork experience, especially when it’s multidisciplinary,” says Meera Bhagauti, a 43-year-old from ­Canada who lives in Los Angeles, is a PhD candidate in business psychology, and is training to become a certified practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine. As for relationships with superiors, it’s “important to me because I would like to learn and grow” and having the right super­visor “can help facilitate that,” she says.

    Bhagauti’s view that “money isn’t everything” is typical of many workers today. ­Indeed, for most workers, compensation-­related factors—including performance bonuses, health care insurance, paid time off, and the generosity of any retirement plan—don’t even make it onto their list of top-ten priorities.

    After appreciation for work and relationships with colleagues comes another soft factor, work-life balance. As 39-year-old Nicole Dessain puts it, “I am not willing anymore to get up every Monday morning at 4 a.m. to head to the airport.” Dessain, a German expatriate, lives in Chicago with her American-born husband and recently went into business as an independent consultant. Compared to when she was in her twenties, she says, “The whole aspect of work-life integration has become more important to me.”

    One tangible work attribute that retains high importance globally is learning and career development. “To me, it is the most important thing,” says Alejandro Vega, a 25-year-old supply-chain analyst from Mexico who is now working in Colombia. In putting career development first, Vega is like most people in Mexico, in many South American and European countries, and in China.

    How Priorities Shift with Age and Position

    While the interest in intrinsic work rewards is unmistakable, various factors influence the importance of the different attributes. One obvious factor is a worker’s age. Although an appreciative atmosphere is always near the top of the list of desired workplace attributes, other factors rise and fall in importance as workers go through their careers and gain experience. For instance, career development fades as a priority once workers grow out of their thirties. Work-life balance, too, rises in importance in certain periods—during child-raising years, for instance—and diminishes in others. But as workers age and family responsibilities ease, people again become more focused on the relationships they have at work and on the extent to which the work itself is holding their interest.

    Another factor that seems to influence the weight that workers assign to different job attributes is their position within the organizational hierarchy. Workers lower down on the hierarchy assign more importance to their relationships with colleagues than to their relationships with superiors—exactly the opposite of higher-level managers—and they focus on factors that wouldn’t usually matter to an executive or a high-level manager.

    The most obvious example of something that matters more to a lower-level worker than to an executive is job security. Job security is at the top of the list for manual workers and almost as important to office workers, but it isn’t a big concern to people in top management positions. With their skills and connections, people high up on the organizational ladder may believe that they could easily find a job elsewhere if they had to. Retaining these exceptionally talented people, given the expanded opportunities they have in a more global economy, will be at the core of the challenges that HR departments face over the next decade. (See “For HR Departments, It’s Time to Change the ‘Total Offer.’”)


    For HR Departments, It’s Time to Change the “Total Offer”

    There’s no question that there’s been an evolution in what workers value. What’s less clear is whether companies are moving to address the shift.

    Even as employers have begun to modify the branding they use to recruit workers—correctly anticipating the shift to a postcrisis world in which money isn’t everything—companies have not really done much to push their reward systems toward new and compelling “total offers” that include many of the attributes relating culture, relationships, and appreciation that employees covet these days. Instead, company rewards are still largely built around compensation, and the culture inside many companies remains hierarchical, with complex guidelines, limited flexibility, and highly political agendas. It’s the rare employer that has found a way to institutionalize appreciation—the attribute that workers, especially younger workers of Generation Y, now seem to crave.

    To retain the best employees and keep them motivated, companies will have to come up with new strategies to keep their employees engaged. This isn’t to say that companies are entering an era of diminished status for compensation specialists, so prominent in the HR function now. Money may not be everything but it still matters, and compensation experts will still be essential.

    But there need to be other kinds of expertise, too. In particular, HR needs to find ways to get more involved in shaping corporate culture, in encouraging meaningful relationships between and among bosses and workers, and in ensuring that appreciation for a job well done gets the company-wide attention it deserves. Otherwise, the most talented employees will leave and companies will face a strategic disadvantage.

    Companies also need to take account of the varied reward mechanisms that are effective depending on workers’ career stage, management level, and nationality. This will be a big change for many HR departments, requiring fresh thinking and new areas of analysis, but the best will find ways to get it done.