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What Workers Want in a Job

It goes without saying that decent pay and economic security are basic needs of Canadians. But when asked what’s most important for them in a job, working Canadians overwhelmingly point to non-economic factors. R-E-S-P-E-C-T – to quote Aretha Franklin’s 1960s R&B hit – is right at the top of the list. So, it is ‘intrinsic’ aspects of work, such as how people treat you, that are of paramount importance to the quality of people’s working lives.


More Than a Paycheque: What Canadians Say is Very Important in a Job

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

As the above chart shows, 70 percent or more of employed Canadians consider respect, interesting work, meaningful work and good communications with co-workers as key ingredients of a good job. On the other hand, the extrinsic -- or economic -- aspects are considered relatively less important. For instance, only 62 percent of those surveyed indicate that job security or pay are very important, and slightly more than one in two indicate that fringe benefits are very important (54 percent). This does not imply that the financial package doesn’t matter. Rather, it suggests that many employees tend to place greater importance on intrinsic aspects of work.


What Men and Women Want in a Job

More Than a Paycheque: Men and Women Express Some Different Desires

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

Do men and women want different things from paid work? The answer seems to be a qualified ‘yes.’ Both sexes tend to place a similar level of importance on having interesting work, being well paid, having access to benefits and having opportunities for career advancement. However, women are more likely than men to say that being treated with respect, and enjoying good communication with co-workers are very important aspects of work. Similarly, women indicate a stronger interest in working with friendly and helpful people and place more importance on balancing work and family life. While it is easy to understand the latter given women’s greater family responsibilities, it is less easy to account for the other gender differences. But it is worth noting that this ‘gender gap’ is also found in other social and political attitudes, with women tending to adopt more people-oriented views.


Younger and Older Workers

More Than a Paycheque: Do Young People Hold Different Work Attitudes?

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).

With all the talk about how ‘Gen-Xers’ or the ‘Nexus Generation’ have divergent values from their parent’s generation, we might expect to find major differences in work aspirations by age. As the above graph shows, however, there are fewer differences in this regard than there are gender differences. Workers of all ages place much the same emphasis on being treated with respect, having interesting work, getting along with co-workers and receiving decent pay. However, those over the age of 45 place greater emphasis than workers under the age of 30 on performing work that provides a sense of accomplishment and on feeling committed to their employer. In contrast, younger workers are more likely to emphasize job security and having opportunities for career advancement. This latter finding is not overly surprising given that younger workers tend to occupy junior positions and therefore aspire to get ahead. The value younger workers place on job security tends to debunk popular media images of this generation as ‘free agents’ who readily migrate from job to job.

For employers, these findings contain practical insights about what people aspire to in a job. They underline the importance of knowing what your workforce wants, recognizing the key demographic differences in this regard, and trying to respond accordingly. But most of all, it is clear that employers won’t meet recruitment and retention goals with only a good financial package. Finding ways to provide personally rewarding and fulfilling work is equally, if not more, important. That’s what Canadian workers are telling us.

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