What Motivates Employees to Stay? It’s Mostly About the Pay

Sometimes, the simplest and most logical answer that makes the most sense.

So it is with CareerBuilder‘s latest survey that digs deep into just what it is that an organization can do to keep a talented employee on board.

Would you believe that for most workers — surprise, surprise! — it’s all about the money?

When employees were asked the question, “What ultimately entices workers to stay with a company?”, the majority of workers (70 percent) reported that increasing salaries is the best way to boost employee retention.

One-third of top performers left their job in 2012

That’s just one response from the latest CareerBuilder survey that “explores which job factors are most important to today’s workers.” More than 3,900 full-time workers nationwide participated in the survey conducted online by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, 2012.

Not surprisingly, employers are extremely focused on retention. Nearly one-third of employers (32 percent) reported that top performers had left their organizations in 2012, and another 39 percent are concerned that they’ll lose some of their top talent in 2013.

In contrast, while most workers (66 percent) stated that they are generally satisfied with their jobs, one in four (25 percent) said they will change jobs in 2013 or 2014, although it remains to be seen if the economy will continue to grow enough to allow that to happen.

Still, that 25 percent figure seems somewhat mild compared to what we’ve been hearing in so many engagement surveys the last few years when the percentage of workers saying they were ready to bolt ranged from 30 percent to 60 percent (or more), depending on the survey.

The CareerBuilder survey also asked employees to weigh in on the value of various about workplace perks and other items that are generally thought to motivate workers to stay with their companies. Here are a few examples.

How important is the job title?

While upward mobility is a key factor in job satisfaction and employee retention, having a specific job title isn’t important to more than half of the workers (55 percent) surveyed. The vast majority (88 percent) reported that salary matters more.

Other factors that outrank job title in what is most important to workers are:

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  • Flexible schedule – 59 percent;
  • Being able to make a difference – 48 percent;
  • Challenging work – 35 percent;
  • Ability to work from home – 33 percent;
  • Academic reimbursement – 18 percent;
  • Having an office – 17 percent; and,
  • Company car – 14 percent.

Do perks matter?

About a quarter (26 percent) of workers said that special perks help to improve employee retention. When asked to identify one perk that would make their workplace more satisfying, getting a jump on the weekend, convenient gym access, and casual dress scored highest (although a lot of the “perks” that were listed seem to be hard to find outside of high-tech firms in the Silicon Valley):

  1. Half-day Fridays – 40 percent;
  2. On-site fitness center – 20 percent;
  3. Ability to wear jeans – 18 percent;
  4. Daily catered lunches – 17 percent;
  5. Massages – 16 percent;
  6. Nap room – 12 percent;
  7. Rides to and from work – 12 percent;
  8. Snack cart that comes around the office – 8 percent;
  9. Private restroom – 7 percent;
  10. On-site daycare – 6 percent.

Compensation “always” a top consideration

And, what else beyond more money and better benefits “ultimately entices workers to stay” on the job and reduce voluntary turnover? Workers cited things like flexible schedules (51 percent), an increase in employee recognition awards (50 percent), taking action on employee feedback (48 percent), increased training and learning opportunities (35 percent), and hiring additional workers to ease workloads (22 percent).

“What determines job satisfaction is not a one-size-fits-all, but flexibility, recognition, the ability to make a difference and yes, even special perks, can go a long way,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, in a press release about the survey findings.

She added: “Being compensated well will always be a top consideration, but we’re seeing work-life balance, telecommuting options and learning opportunities outweigh other job factors when an employee decides whether to stay with an organization.”

Yes, Rosemary’s right that here are a variety of factors that can help keep employees in the fold, but what this survey suggests to me is that all of the other perks and factors may not matter much if the most important one — pay — isn’t right.

Ignore that basic fact at your peril.

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.