Not just a salary survey | what really matters

Be Kaler Pilgrim

Be Kaler Pilgrim

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The world of work is changing. People will hold more jobs across their lifetime than ever before, and the traditional drivers of income and progression are changing as people seek out challenge and reward in different ways across their careers.

In our daily conversations with those working in the digital space, we've been hearing an increase in the importance of work-life balance, company culture and other non-monetary factors in selecting a job. We've also seen a rise in people talking about lack of progression and recognition as drivers for leaving a job. 

It's no longer enough for hiring organisations to maintain strong remuneration packages to hire and retain great talent.

To better understand what really matters to people when they move from one role to the next, we invited the people we helped to find new opportunities last year to answer this set of questions.

  • What attracted you to your current role?
  • Why did you decide to move on from your previous role?
  • What will be important to you when you look for your next role?
  • What is your current job title?
  • Are you permanent or freelance?
  • How many years of experience in your field do you have?
  • Would you work with Futureheads again?

With over 100 responses, we've been able to dive deep into what is important to the digital workforce and pull out some key insights to share with our clients and candidates.

Culture brings people in and pushes them away

Cultural fit was a big pull factor behind why people chose to join a company, especially for UX practitioners, designers and technologists. Comments for what appealed to people about their current role included:

"Relaxed, fun culture, talented team"

"The processes, the culture, the quality of work and the way teams are built cross-discipline."

But at the same time, almost a third of all our technology respondents referred to a poor culture as a reason for deciding to move on from their previous role.

Much is made of creating a strong culture in the workplace - and it's something we spend a lot of time working on here at Futureheads HQ. But a mistake I have seen a lot of organisations make is to treat culture as a 'tickbox'. A few positive Glassdoor reviews, early Friday finish policy and, if you're lucky, an office dog or two, and some managers put it to the back of their mind. Until great people start leaving in droves.

Company culture is a living, breathing thing - and it doesn't take much to unsettle it, especially in a fast-moving, high growth environment. You need to invest in it constantly and work to keep it moving in the right direction.

A huge part of creating a strong culture is hiring and retaining the right people, and our advice here would be to involve your team in the hiring process as much as you can - recruitment is a team game after all.

Your reputation precedes you

The reputation of the company was something that our respondents talked about, particularly those in product management, UX and design roles. 

"I know the industry. I like the product manager's approach and the potential to apply different types of research."

"Great reputation for great UX."

"Love the brand and the energy of the tech team."

This might sound difficult if you're a smaller brand, but there are ways to get your name out there. One of these is to share your work - whether that's giving a talk, running a company blog, or evangelising the kind of work you do. Smaller brands can also benefit from working with recruitment partners, who can get great people excited about your organisation and connect you, something that you might not have been able to do easily through direct hiring channels.

As a recruitment brand, reputation is pivotal to our success, so we were delighted to see 100% of our respondents said they'd work with us again. As well as a great bragging opportunity, it shows that even as we've grown as a business, we've been able to maintain great levels of service and passion for what we do. As a founder, I'm so proud to see these results - here's to many more.

Create a career path, not just a job

A lack of progression is also something that pushed people to look for a new role.

"I could do the job standing on my head. I wanted to be challenged!"

"I had outgrown the team, no opportunity to progress."

Some people were looking for clear routes up the ladder, and opportunity to take on increased responsibility or manage a team. This was a common theme among people working in UX and product roles. Three-quarters of our respondents working in product management chose their current role because it offered them a clear scope to progress, and half of those in UX roles talked about looking to move into management, either in their current or future role.

Conversely, the majority of the designers who talked about career paths and progressions were less clear on what that future looked like, even if they were already at a relatively senior level.

This got me thinking about the challenges of designing a conversation about progression as a business leader. Some employees have a clear idea of what they are looking for, and your role as manager is to enable them to reach their goals. For others, the discussion needs to be broader, and help them unpack what progression looks like for them.

Perhaps surprisingly, there wasn't any real correlation between the years of experience that people had in their field, and their clarity around what their future career path looks like. Taking on a lead or principal role didn't necessarily mean that people had a clear focus on progression in their next role. 

What managers need to do is work with employees at all levels to support their long-term career goals - and avoid making any assumptions that because someone is experienced, they have a clear progression plan laid out.

For people working in the digital industry, it's always a good idea to think about your future. You don't need to have a rigid five-year plan - and the role you might want might not even have a name yet! But having a think about whether you think you'd like to lead a team or focus on specific kinds of projects, can help ensure you take on a new role that not only fits your immediate requirements but also puts you on route to your longer-term ambitions.

Lean into flexible working

As well as being mentioned by many of our respondents as a reason for moving roles, flexible hours and remote working options were also highlighted by a number of people as something they would look for in future positions. The workforce is placing increasing importance on flexible working, and this looks like only going to increase in the coming years.

Lots of organisations talk about flexible working - but for a lot of organisations, it’s just that; talk. Here's our advice on flexible working practices that enable you to hire and retain the people you need in your organisation.

Secure your staff

We're busier than ever, and the pace of new projects and new organisations shows no sign of slowing down. But I was interested to see that a number of respondents found themselves looking for work due to a lack of stability in their role - a round of funding hadn't materialised, or an acquisition had taken place that had adversely impacted their experience at work. One person said that "acquisition didn't suit me", and another decided to move on due to "insecurity as to whether the company I was at would still be around".

There will always be restructuring and other organisational changes to contend with in the fast-moving world of digital, but there is work that organisations can do to help make sure their staff feel secure with the organisation.

Change and transformation has been around for a while now, but there is so much innovation and great thinking in this space that can help you manage change and retain talent.

Many of our freelance responses to why they moved on were simply that their contract had ended, but when asked about why they opted for their current role, there was a recurrent theme in the length of the project. Part of this may be that a 'meaty' project allows people to better stretch their creative muscles and have strategic impact. These are some comments from freelancers on why they decided to take their current role:

"The challenge of changing a business's mindset to a more strategic and product-oriented mindset".

"The opportunity to entirely restructure their tech processes and architecture."

Others talked about a desire for stability, and when asked about their future plans, were considering moving into permanent roles. Several people highlighted their need for flexibility as parents to young children.

The gap between fixed full-time permanent roles and fully freelance is diminishing, and employers need to be more open to flexible working practices to find and retain great people. Here's our advice on delivering flexible working practices.

Money is a piece of the puzzle

Though we’re looking at the bigger picture, salary does play a role in why people move roles. It’s relatively rare for us to come across a candidate who’s solely motivated by money; only 3% of the people who responded to our survey mentioned salary or rate alone as a reason for taking a job, and only15% mentioned remuneration as the primary reason for taking a new job. And three-quarters of respondents didn’t mention money at all. 

Freelancers talked about day rate a little more frequently, with 20% mentioning the rate as the primary reason for choosing their role, but it's clear that for digital talent, there's more to work than money.

That said, hiring great people in the digital world is competitive, and we find that, especially once someone has been on the market, they understand their value, the package becomes more important - and we have seen the negative consequences of a hiring organisation that a candidate was really passionate about, offering a sub-market salary. Even if the candidate wasn't focusing on money, by offering under the odds, it throws their relationship into disarray as they don't feel valued by their future employer. And that's before they've even started.

Of course, money doesn't grow on trees, and if you're struggling to raise salaries competitively, it can be a challenge. But there are other solutions. We'd always advise being open with the person you're trying to hire about your position at the moment, and what you can offer, and what options in the future will exist. Future salary reviews and bonuses, or other rewards such as equity or private healthcare, are all great tools for securing and retaining talent.

One thing to note is that a lot more people talked about money in relation to their future roles. Some of this was from people looking to buy a home, or start a family, and so were looking for income to fund lifestyle changes. But for others, it's tied to progression. Market rates of pay are rising steadily, and it's easier than ever for people to find out what they are worth, so it's important not to neglect this growth once your new employee has settled into the role. Regular reviews of salaries and other benefits can help engage and retain your staff and show that you recognise their value.

While salary isn't the driving factor in the majority of cases, it is an important indicator of value for people working in digital, so it pays to pay well.

If you'd like to discuss any of these insights, and what they mean for the changing world of work in more detail, please say hello at be@wearefutureheads.co.uk.