Employees favour work-life balance over salary, study suggests

Preferences have switched post pandemic as many recognise the effect of non-monetary perks on their wellbeing

10,000 Hours/Getty Images

Employees are favouring work-life balance over salary benefits post pandemic, research has found. 

The research by Aviva, which looked at data from 2,173 employees in May this year, found that 41 per cent were attracted to their current role because of the work-life balance it offers, compared to 36 per cent who cited salary.

This is in contrast to before the pandemic, when a separate survey by Aviva in 2019 found that slightly more employees valued salary over work-life balance (41.02 compared to 40.97 per cent respectively).

Why employers mustn’t underestimate how tech can transform employee experience

Half of employers support extending statutory paternity leave and pay, research shows

Majority of employees believe their company is a good place to work, study finds

In this year’s research the vast majority (88 per cent) of employees said workplace benefits (other than salary) improved their overall happiness. However, a similar proportion (87 per cent) said they wished to see improvements to the benefits offered in the next 12 months.

The survey found male employees were more likely to say that salary was what attracted them to their current role than work-life balance (43 per cent compared to 34 per cent). 

For women, it was the opposite: 44 per cent said they were attracted to their current role because of work-life balance, compared to 33 per cent who cited salary. Women were also much more likely to value flexible working (45 per cent of women compared to 27 per cent of men).

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

After work-life balance and salary, employees said they most valued location (including parking and transport links), career progression, people and culture and company reputation (31, 24, 19 and 18 per cent respectively). 

Following this was the workplace benefits package (13 per cent), level of pension contribution (12 per cent), bonuses (11 per cent) and perks (8 per cent).

The research, which also surveyed 505 employers in May this year, found that employers, by contrast, were least likely to say that location was important to their employees when choosing their current workplace (23 per cent), and placed people and culture third on their list (32 per cent).

Laura Stewart-Smith, head of client engagement at Aviva, said that while workplace benefits and pension packages were still important to employees post pandemic, it was much more common for them to value work-life balance at this time.

She said employers can only get the best return on their benefits investment if employees understood and fully utilised their benefits packages, and good engagement was a way to do this. When communicating their benefits package, employers must be “sensitive to the financial challenges people might be facing in the current climate”, she said. “Employee case studies of those who have benefitted may be a useful tool in bringing to life what a workplace benefits package can do for other colleagues.”

More than half (53 per cent) of employers said they struggled to offer competitive workplace benefits to their employees. Two-thirds (62 per cent) of SMEs employing between 50 and 249 people said they were finding this a challenge, and two-thirds (62 per cent) of all organisations cited the cost of implementing such benefits as the main barrier to offering competitive workplace benefits.

Meanwhile, the top reason for employees not taking advantage of the perks on offer was ‘nothing’ (24 per cent), this was followed by lack of information provided (22 per cent), lack of interest (21 per cent) and that the benefits offered were not relevant to them (19 per cent).

When asked about which workplace benefits they would most value that weren’t currently on offer, half (50 per cent) of employees and 45 per cent of employers cited a ‘wellness allowance’ of between £400 and £1,200 to spend on anything.

A third (37 per cent) of employees cited ‘duvet days’ (unscheduled time off with no notice given) and the same percentage of respondents said interest-free loans for home improvements or weddings would be beneficial. 

The vast majority of employees said that, if given the choice, they would take an increase in salary over an improved workplace benefits package (83 per cent), while 71 per cent of employers agreed this was important to their staff.

Separate analysis from the 2022 Working Families Index found that parents who felt their organisation cared about their work and home balance were nearly two and a half times more likely to intend to stay in their current role, than those who did not feel this way. 

Simon Kelleher, head of policy and influencing at Working Families, said that with rising business costs and a tight labour market, non-financial benefits can be an important tool for staff retention, especially for SMEs. However, “without dedicated HR support, we recognise that implementing family-friendly working practices and benefits can be a challenge”, he pointed out.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said the Aviva survey findings were not surprising, given that many workers have re-evaluated their work-life balance post pandemic. “With continued skills shortages in the labour market, it’s important that employers think about their offering in the round to attract and retain a diverse pool of talent,” she advised.

Melissa Jamieson, chief executive of Timewise, said the results were unsurprising, and that the last couple of years have proved that “great working patterns are inclusive and empower people to be their best”.

“The best businesses recognise that hybrid arrangements aren’t enough – to be truly inclusive you consider all forms of flex, including those that are time-based,” she said, adding that employers that can both offer and communicate this effectively to employees will open up new and diverse talent pools.