Here is proof the boss doesn’t think like you do


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Ask employees why they stay in their jobs, and trust in leadership, job security and a short commute all come out as reasons listed near the top. Ask employers the same question, however, and the same priorities don't even make the top 10.

On Tuesday, the consulting firm Towers Watson released two surveys that reveal a gulf in understanding in what employees value and what employers think matters most to their workers. For instance, when it comes to what attracts people to a job, employees put base pay first, job security second, and opportunities to advance their careers third. Employers, meanwhile, see things a little different, ranking career opportunities first, pay second and job security seventh.

The two sides weren't completely on the same page when it came to the factors that make them stay put in their jobs, either. Both ranked base pay and career advancement first and second — a good start. But while employees ranked confidence in management, job security and the length of their commute next —third, fourth and fifth — none of those three retention factors even made the employers' top 10.

"That's a pretty big disconnect," says Laura Sejen, Towers Watson's managing director of talent and rewards. The results, she says, reveal how much workers really value the quality of their work-life balance. "Employers seem to be underestimating how important that is to employees." Employers, for instance, ranked "learning opportunities" and "challenging work" as the fifth and seventh most important things to their employees — but neither item made workers' top 10.

That disconnect wouldn't matter much if employers didn't need to worry about people quitting for another job, as was often the case during the recession. But as the economy has improved, companies are hiring more workers and employees are increasingly jumping ship. One of the two surveys, a study of 1,637 companies globally (the primary respondents were managers and human resources executives), found that 35 percent of companies said turnover was rising. Nearly two-thirds were having trouble attracting top performers, an increase from two years ago.

Meanwhile, the 32,000 employees who responded to the other survey (6,014 were from the United States) had plenty to say about the quality of their managers — or lack thereof. While a slight majority of respondents tended to view top leaders as effective, there were a few areas in which bosses got failing grades. Just 45 percent of respondents said senior managers are sincerely interested in employees' well-being, and just 39 percent said top leaders do a good job of developing leadership talent for the future.

Just 45 percent said their immediate manager makes fair decisions about performance and pay, and only 41 percent said career development discussions with their supervisors have had a payoff. About four in 10 employees said their company acted on employees' suggestions or involved them in decisions.

Perhaps most alarming, Sejen said, is that roughly the same ratio — 41 percent of employees — say they would need to join another organization to advance their career. That doesn't just go for all employees, but even for workers who've been deemed "high-potential." "That was a red flag for me," she said. "If I were an employer, I would find that to be very troubling."

Read also:

Your boss uses Facebook at work more than you do

What's a great boss worth?

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Jena McGregor · July 28