What is it that really drives you to get up each day and go to work? Is it the salary, your organisational purpose or your challenging role? Employers everywhere ask these questions to try to attract the best talent and retain great employees, acutely aware that employee engagement is intrinsically linked with productivity.

A new study issued today (Tuesday 28 January), ‘New Decade, New Direction,’ by The Institute of Leadership & Management, and partnered with Amazing If and Triangirls, has discovered that it is something rather modest but very human that gives most of us the greatest satisfaction at work –getting on well with our colleagues.

Get by with a little help from your friends

The study asked more than 2,100 workers to identify the factors that affect their job satisfaction and explored their career plans for the new decade, and found that colleagues have the biggest impact on job satisfaction; good relationships with colleagues is the most important factor in determining job satisfaction with 77% of satisfied workers citing it. And notably, only 34% of people consider salary to be the most important determinant of job satisfaction.

Amongst ‘satisfied’ people, salary was the eighth most important factor in determining happiness in their job, whereas dissatisfied employees cited it as third. Satisfied workers considered salary less important than feeling connected to the purpose of the organisation and having a challenging role.

This research echoes the work of earlier researchers in the field of job satisfaction particularly Frederick Herzberg who identified the aspects of work that provide satisfaction as distinct from those that prevent dissatisfaction and Elton Mayo who highlighted the importance of the social aspects of work. Our research found that salary ranked eight as a cause for satisfaction but third as a factor cited by those people dissatisfied in their current role.

Kate Cooper, Head of Research, Policy and Standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management, said: “This research reveals that it can be the less concrete factors, such as relationships, that can make the difference between someone enjoying their job or not – and potentially wanting to leave.  At a time when mental health and wellbeing is high on the agenda and rightly being taken more seriously, it’s particularly encouraging to see the majority of people recognising the importance of having good relationships with their colleagues and even, giving it a higher priority than factors such as salary.  These relationships can help to create a healthier and happier working environment, and a team with higher morale.

“While they may persuade people to hang on in their current roles, pay rises won’t make anyone automatically like their jobs more.  So, while pay is really important – particularly if we feel that, compared to others, we’re being inadequately rewarded – it still doesn’t provide us with intrinsic satisfaction with the work that we do.  To help encourage greater levels of job satisfaction, it’s crucial for business leaders to understand what’s important to their staff which, as our findings show, isn’t always financially driven.”

Thirst for learning

The research also confirmed a wide recognition of the importance of development. Opportunities for growth and development contribute to a sense of satisfaction whereas their absence, was identified as a key factor in job dissatisfaction.

Expanding professional knowledge was voted the top career goal for 2020, according to 50% of all respondents. This was followed by getting better at leading and managing (36%), and then nearly one third identified improving work-life balance. 

There is undoubtedly an appetite for learning, both in technical/professional skills and leadership and management capabilities, and this is not necessarily equated with achieving a qualification. Training (43%) and coaching (36%), which do not necessarily result in a qualification, are considered important factors for career progression.

6 top tips to keep your best talent and make your company a great place to work:

  • Don’t assume you know how people derive satisfaction from their work - ask them!
  • Pay attention to non-financial aspects of a job; flexible working, challenging work and being valued are often very important, and a higher salary does not always compensate for the loss, or absence, of these aspects.
  • Put effort into creating opportunities to build the social relationships that are so key to so many people, paying special attention to flexible and distributed workers
  • Social activities don’t necessarily have to be time-consuming or expensive.  Opportunities to have lunch or coffee together are important, arrange meetings that include a proper break rather than ‘working through’.
  • View paying travel for regular face-to-face meetings for distributed workers as an investment not an expense.
  • Provide opportunities and encouragement for informal learning and the development of leadership, management and coaching skills.

For further insights on the topics raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s latest research,
'New Decade, New Direction'.