The Elements of (Employee) Attraction

A recent survey finds differences in how men and women determine a potential employer's desirability. Experts say organizations must do their own research to establish what their people value most, and define the elements that will help the company attract the right talent, regardless of gender.

Thursday, July 25, 2013
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Generally speaking, it's safe to say that salary and benefits are a pretty big deal for men and women alike when sizing up a potential employer.

Beyond those elements, however, it seems significant differences exist between genders when defining what makes an employer desirable.

That's according to Randstad's recent Employer Branding survey of approximately 7,000 individuals -- a mix of students, employed and unemployed workers between the ages of 18 and 65 -- that found men and women ranking pay and benefits packages as the biggest draw, but differing on the importance of other factors contributing to employer attractiveness.

The Atlanta-based employee-placement and recruiting organization's poll found location was a bigger key for women workers, with 44 percent of female respondents choosing location as an important employer attribute. Thirty-five percent of men reported the same.

When choosing to work for an employer, 42 percent of men said they look for opportunities for advancement, versus 36 percent of women saying the same. In addition, 36 percent of men cited a company's financial health as a determining factor, compared to 28 percent of women indicating as much. Men and women respondents also differed on the significance of a flexible work environment. Among women, 37 percent chose workplace flexibility as an important employer attribute, compared to 26 percent of men.

These findings "do not make a global statement about how different genders view work," says Lisa Crawford, senior vice president of human resources with Randstad U.S.

"There are many women to whom career advancement is much more important than flexible work arrangements, as well as men who feel the reverse," says Crawford. "However, our findings show that women do tend to take a more holistic view of their careers, factoring in more than just [career] trajectory when determining where they want to work."

"It is hard to stereotype male versus female career interests," adds Dave Ulrich, professor of business at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a partner at the RBL Group, a Provo, Utah-based consulting firm.

But, he says, "these data confirm what many would assume: Men choose a job for a career -- with an interest in advancement -- while women may choose a job for a supplement."

With regard to location, several variables may make an organization more desirable, says Kathie Lingle, executive director of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress.

"It could have to do with safety concerns, if prime location represents desirable and/or upscale locales; or convenience, if prime location [means] close to home; or prestige, if prime [location] signals a desirable city."

The findings on flexibility should come as no surprise, says Lingle.

"I've never seen a study where women [weren't] more interested than men in how flexible the work environment might be, so this finding is consistent with workplace reality today," she says.  

Work/life balance was No. 4 on the survey's list of most important factors in choosing an employer for both genders. "So, apparently both men and women value some form of flexibility at work."

Indeed, the gender gap with respect to flexible work environments has substantially narrowed in recent years, says Lingle, as men "are now grappling with as much or more work/life conflict than women."

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In light of such figures, companies and HR would be well-served to focus on key elements such as -- but not limited to -- flexible work policies that appeal to different demographics, says Crawford.

For example, "we are seeing use of technology as a key factor; people of all ages and demographics have much more access to advanced technology in their daily lives via smart phones and tablets and the wide range of applications developed for these devices. As a result, when they come to work they don't want to be using outdated technologies or manual processes to complete aspects of their jobs."

This reality relates to job content as well -- especially for younger workers, she says. "They don't want to be doing the same repetitive task. They want to learn on the job and have the freedom to tackle stretch assignments that will enable them to grow."

Crawford advises "conducting your own proprietary research" to understand what employees and potential employees value most, and to determine the elements of attractiveness that are most relevant to your organization, says Crawford.

"Research studies that can be found in the marketplace continue to provide good general input, but nothing is as important as what your specific target audience wants."

In addition, employees and job seekers must be confident that the company can deliver the elements that are most critical to their engagement, she says.

For example, "if your people cite 'access to cutting-edge technology' as most important to them, but this is an area in which you may not have invested, you cannot credibly stake your brand on it.

"Find that intersection of what people want and what you deliver well on," says Crawford, "and start with that."

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