Yes, there really is more to work than money, says Simon Howard… Believe it or not, it’s a culture thing

Getting feedback to columns such as this is one of the most welcome parts of doing the job. But last weekend I was saddened to discover that the one avid follower of this column (my Mum) has now limited her weekend reading to The Telegraph and the Methodist Recorder; which accounts for her no longer nagging that this picture (right) is wildly out-of-date or why am I ‘so unkind to those nice people at Sainsbury’ (conveniently forgetting that she stopped shopping there earlier this year…whoops, there I go again).
Anyway, back to the feedback. One reader has asked why I never write about the poor salaries paid in the grocery sector. Well, money is not the most important reason for working and I know that because some of the clever people I work with (in the day job) have been carrying out a survey to find out what really motivates people to join and stay with companies.
The research asked more than 500 employees to rate the importance of 42 separate factors. These ranged from working with a great boss to working for a market leader. They were trying to test a simple enough theory: that the style and culture of the workplace, coupled to the intrinsic features of the job, are more important than the company you work for or the money you get paid.
And the theory held up in research, more or less. The top ranking feature came as a real surprise - openness in communications at work (a style and culture point). And it didn’t seem to matter whether the respondent was on the shop floor or in the boardroom. Also up there in the top five factors were the opportunity to learn new things, investment in personal development, and seeing results and rewards for exceptional performance. In other words only one of the top five factors concerned remuneration.
Perhaps more surprising was what ranked bottom out of the 42 factors. Flexible pay and benefits wasn’t an issue and came in at 42 but, astoundingly, ranked at 38, was acceptable pace and stress. In other words, from the choices the study gave them, the participants believed that there were 37 other things which were more important than pace and stress. But when you sit back and think about it, the fact stress came so low should perhaps not be such a surprise, as most studies about stress do not ask how important it is relative to other issues in the workplace. It’s rather like work-life balance - of course, we all say that we would prefer more life and less work.
There were differences between different groups, too. Respondents earning less than £20,000 rated work-life balance as the second most important factor, while for those earning over £60,000 it ranked only 26.
Regional differences crept in here, too: for Midlanders it rated sixth, whereas hard-working Londoners (only winding you up) put it at 20th. Londoners also felt that ‘rewards for exceptional performance’ was the most important factor, while respondents from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had it down as tenth.
One result that the age lobbyists won’t like was that for the respondents under the age of 30 the most important factor was the ability to learn new things at work whereas for those aged 50-plus it didn’t matter that much and only rated 18th.
As someone who this time next year will be insuring his car with Saga, I’m beginning to take a close interest in this twaddle about age discrimination. As an employer, I would rather employ people who want to learn new things because if we are to cope with the rate of change in the workplace we must all keep up with new developments.
Okay, at 76 I can forgive my Mum giving up this column, but if older people give up on learning new things, then they will find it harder to find their place in the work force.
As it happens, I believe attitudes to age are changing but there are still many stereotypes that both sides of the age argument need to overcome.
In the meantime, I’m just looking forward to those lower insurance premiums.
n Simon Howard is a founder of Work Communications and writes the Jobfile column for The Sunday Times.