Are workers choosing mental health, well-being, and work-life balance over career success? 

Traditionally, the top priority for most professionals was having a satisfactory and stable income that could increase year on year. Over time, many have come to define success by how far and fast we can rise through the ranks.

However, over the last decade or two, there has been a shift in how many professionals perceive work – largely amplified by the pandemic. And our latest market report, 2024 Talent Trends: The Expectation Gap, reaffirms this, revealing 64% of people in the UK would turn down a promotion in order to maintain their well-being and in turn their work-life balance. What’s more, this has increased year-on-year by 7%.

During the pandemic, the concept of ‘work-life balance’ became more tangible and meaningful and remote working became the norm, with people finding themselves with more free time than ever. With fewer hours spent in the office and commuting, they had the opportunity to invest more time in other important areas of their lives. Time, arguably the most valuable resource for many, suddenly became more abundant. That change – and the extra focus many workers were able to give to their mental health – showed a lot of people what work-life balance could be like. Thus, it’s unsurprising to see this point in time has changed many individuals’ relationship with work forever.

Achieving job satisfaction: The role of work-life balance

Work-life balance plays a crucial role in overall job satisfaction. Our research found that while individuals have varying priorities such as competitive salaries and opportunities for growth and recognition, work-life balance remained at the forefront for most. Over half (56%) ranked it as the most significant influencer of job satisfaction. By comparison:

  • 45% cited salary; 
  • Hybrid and flexible work arrangements were the most important factor for 44%;
  • 35% said gratitude, recognition, and appreciation play a huge role in their job satisfaction.

With 56% of candidates saying that work-life balance is more important than a higher salary when it comes to defining career success, it is clear work-life balance is now non-negotiable for many workers.

What does work-life balance look like?

A trend that came from a post-pandemic return to work was the variations of work-life, depending on workers’ individual needs and preferences. As flexibility becomes increasingly valued, it's crucial to understand that it's not a one-size-fits-all concept. Employees across various industries express a desire for autonomy in their working patterns, stretching beyond the “expected” hybrid or flexible working arrangements, and introducing the ability to choose their working hours, and deciding when to work from home or the office or site.

Key aspects of flexibility for workers include:

  • Hybrid/flexible working arrangements, say 76%
  • Working hours for 71% of workers
  • Ability to choose office vs. remote workdays for 71% of respondents

The key to success lies in finding a mutually beneficial middle ground. When policies are rigidly enforced without considering individual needs and preferences, there can be unintended consequences. For example, 58% of respondents from our survey said they are working in the office more than they were 12 months ago due to changes in company policy. Almost the same number (59%) are actively seeking new employment opportunities as a result. 

This highlights the negative impact of overly restrictive policies on employee morale, engagement, and ultimately retention. On the other hand, empowering workers with autonomy, such as flexibility in work arrangements, can lead to increased job satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty. Leaders who recognise their workforce’s diverse needs by offering autonomy in decision-making can cultivate a more positive and sustainable work environment, ultimately benefiting both the employees and the organisation. 

This shift in behaviour is not confined to any specific industry, either. Our research indicates that the demand for flexibility and work-life balance spans across nearly every sector. Even in industries where adopting hybrid working models might pose challenges due to the nature of the work, employees express similar expectations.

What will this mean for the way we work?

Work-life balance will never be able to take the place of pay in the priority list entirely. Ultimately, salaries provide people with security, safety, and comfort – and they help workers to make the most of their spare time. For these reasons, it will always be essential. But work-life balance is highly valued by the workforce, and organisations that want to attract and keep top talent are prioritising it.

Going forward, employers are likely to focus on ensuring high productivity whilst still offering staff the work-life balance they want. Salary remains the number one factor attracting candidates to a business – but without work-life balance they will not stay.

To address this critical issue, both employers and employees can take proactive steps such as establishing clear communication channels, implementing flexible working reviews, and understanding individual needs.

What’s next?

If you’re unhappy with your work-life balance or dissatisfied with your role, it might be time for a change.

If you’re thinking about your next role, search our current jobs, or submit your CV today and one of our expert consultants will be in touch.

And if you’re hiring, why not read on and learn how to refine your employer branding to make sure you keep top talent once they’re through the door. Get the full picture of the modern workforce with our 2024 Talent Trends report – download now for insights to fuel effective attraction and retention strategies.

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