The gap between well-paying roles and satisfaction levels within the transport and infrastructure industries is widening impacting retention rates.  Is more money the answer?

In December 2016 Calibre conducted a workplace sentiment survey asking the more than 1,000 industry professionals to measure their satisfaction in their role, with their company, with their joint achievements as well as their overall outlook for 2017.

And seriously how bad can satisfaction be in an industry that is currently buoyant, where people are both paid well and have the choice of interesting projects? Well you may be just as surprised as us to hear that results weren’t great.

For me, this highlights the current trend that retaining staff has been one of the biggest headaches for transport and infrastructure companies in the last 12 months.  Our survey alone indicated that 65% of respondents had only been with their companies for less than 2 years – indicating very little longevity with companies across the board. And as recruiters, we see it daily with professionals coming in seeking new roles claiming dissatisfaction as their main motivation.

So what is the underlying issue that is causing employees to be dissatisfied with their roles and move around so much?

I know managers often complain “money hungry” professionals are all too quick to jump ship for the next massive pay rise. This obviously places the blame of loss of staff squarely at the feet of both the employee being lured away by $$ and competitors unsustainably shelling out the big bucks to ‘poach’ people.

But is finances realistically the only consideration that an employee would weigh up in their decision to move from one well paying role to another? 

While our survey did indicate that the average industry pay rise in NSW in 2016 was over 6% with over a fifth indicating their pay increased by more than 10%, in all honesty, we don’t see many people through our doors “job hopping” just to bump up their salary. Besides, I believe these pay rises can be attributed more to standard economic principles than employees just chasing money

In fact our survey showed that in relation to what they wanted to see most improvement in 2017, salary came sixth, behind aspects like ‘seeing the workplace vibe and culture improve’ (1st), ‘resources made available to do my job’ (2nd), ‘the type of projects I get to be involved in’ (3rd), ‘level of responsibility and autonomy’ (4th) and ‘recognition from the organisation on mine and my colleagues contribution’. (5th).

While providing staff access to different types of projects may well be out of your control, being able to address the other four aspects will undoubtedly have a positive impact on staff satisfaction and, in the long term, retention. This was highly evident in our survey where results showed that those who were overall happier were working in a company where relationships were valued, their employers were engaged with them and they felt their contributions were valued. This finding is backed up by evidence from a study of US firms where 43% of highly engaged employees said they receive feedback at least once a week compared to just 18% of employees with low engagement.

 And those least satisfied?

Well they were in workplaces where communication about their performance was irregular, that their contributions were not duly recognised and that engagement levels were low. This is really not that surprising when we reflect on Maslow’s ‘Hierachy of Needs’ (an oldy but a goody in my opinion) that shows after meeting the initial stages of physiological and safety (sufficient pay and job security) comes the need for love/belonging (engagement, feeling valued).

While I am sure many noses will wrinkle in the idea of this last point, our experience at Calibre – where we have a unique insight into the perspectives of both employers and employees – we know that the lack of communication and engagement is the number one aspect for workplace dissatisfaction. (As a side note it seems to be quite prevalent in NSW at the moment!)

With communication and engagement employees can get a greater understanding of what their manager thinks of their work and how they can further improve. This starts a virtuous circle for the employee, who with this support can build self-efficacy and be more confident in taking on otherwise daunting challenges in the work environment. But why is it we don’t see this more widely adopted?

One reason is the incongruence in the work environment they have created. The traditional management theory in Australia puts the onus on the individual to speak up when they are unhappy (no doubt we have all heard the exasperated manager say ‘well why didn’t they say they were unhappy?). Yet at the same time they implicitly create an environment akin to the 1950’s parenting approach – employees should be seen and not heard! This needs to change.

If companies seriously want to address attrition within their company and be more proactive in retaining staff they could do worse than listen to what the professionals they employ, and seek to employ, say.  They will soon find, as this survey shows, that investing in your staff does not begin and end with $$$. What’s more the open communication and listening employees seek comes at a much lower cost.

Trust us – in the long run, it’s easier than getting bogged down in a revolving recruitment process – again and again.