In today’s fast-paced world of work, with emerging opportunities that would’ve seemed sci-fi even 10 years ago, many people are keen to grab the next best thing – meaning employers are often left in the lurch, wondering what they did wrong.
With far more jobs than people to fill them at the present time, it’s a candidate’s market, and one where potential new recruits are more discerning than ever. As an employer, it’s vital in the current climate that you work hard to keep your employees satisfied, whether that’s by offering the best remuneration packages or benefits, or simply by creating a working environment where people feel they really belong.
The average length of service for UK employees is said to be around five years, but many younger people are opting to move on far quicker in order to grab opportunities that suit their lifestyles and interests.
Hiring a new employee can be a costly business, especially for small companies that may struggle to offer the types of progression sought by ambitious workers. So, what can businesses do to create a workplace that inspires long service? And what is the appeal of staying with a company for the long haul?
We asked Reed’s Simon Baddeley, Managing Director – Business Services who joined the company 23 years ago and Declan Slattery, Chair of Global Advisory Board at recruitment insights company TALiNT Partners, who spent 40 years at NatWest, to share their reasons and thoughts for the future of employee loyalty.
Simon Baddeley’s career highlights: lifelong friendships, new opportunities and six-week sabbaticals
I started as an administrator (temp) in Reed’s Oxford office in January 1999 and spent all my time in operations for the 17 years that followed, running everything from a desk to a region of offices. I then moved into Reed’s support services as business improvement director and now as managing director of business services with a portfolio that covers technology, marketing and international ops.
The largest change I have seen over these years has been the reliance on and growth of technology. When I became a recruitment consultant (mid 1999) we still sent CVs via fax machine and my most used tool was Tippex – you still had to anonymise CVs and nearly all jobseekers handed you a paper one, so Tippex was the way forward!
Temp to perm
I didn’t intend on a long stay at Reed. I joined as many of my friends had temped for them through university and always said they were excellent. I had intended taking over the family businesses after my studies, but we sold them six months prior to graduation. I decided to temp until the next round of graduate intakes and then join a graduate scheme. I ended up staying – the people and culture are the best there is.
Job for life
Cheesy as it sounds, there isn’t a part of my life that Reed hasn’t touched. I got married while at Reed, had kids, bought a house and developed my career. I have met and made lifelong friends across my career who are/were co-members (employees), candidates and clients, been lucky enough to manage some amazing people and have been part of top-performing teams. This continues, and I feel constantly challenged and pushed, by my role and the business, to be the best that I can be.
Any regrets on staying in one place my whole career? No, only things I wish I had handled differently with the benefit of hindsight. If I had my time again and the same number of opportunities were available in one company, I see no reason why I wouldn’t stay with the same company for so long.
Declan Slattery’s career highlights: team leadership, and new opportunities and challenges
I joined NatWest in 1982 and left in May 2022, just short of 40 years. But it would be impossible to regard that as having been at the same company throughout. I joined NatWest straight from school at 18 and it was, to be frank, a lazy choice made solely on the back of someone giving me a brochure advertising the jobs available.
I had an incredible career journey working across a whole host of businesses and brands including NatWest, RBS, Coutts, and Ulster Bank and was also fortunate to spend time working outside of the UK in the USA, India, Poland, Switzerland, and The Netherlands.
In my late teens and early twenties, I did not think that far ahead. It was the 1980s and we were all more absorbed with consumption, getting bigger cars, buying flats and being on trend. However, what I guess did stand out was how so many of your colleagues had been there for years and stayed. The job came with the expectation that you would “get your turn” and move on up over time. The business was very grade orientated so people focus on what was needed to get the next grade up. I joined as a grade 1 clerk - the most junior level - and was called something like machine room operator (doing all the in-branch processing, including printing cheque books, and making tea!).
I did think about leaving at times. There was a feeling after a couple of years in a role that things felt stale, or perhaps I lacked faith in a particular manager or department. However, it was not a time when people thought about transferable skills as such. It was more about job content, so all you saw was doing the same kind of thing somewhere else. It would be hard to gauge how long those thinking of leaving moments lasted as somehow, I was always fortunate that new opportunities in the company presented themselves to me without, for the most part. looking for them. Quite often, I seemed to get asked to take on new challenges in the business.
On the whole, I’d say I reached my full career potential, but perhaps I felt that less so in the latter couple of years and at the time of leaving, it felt it was the right thing to do.
In the later stages of my career, I genuinely felt at my most capable and innovative and believed that through and into a post-pandemic world there were genuine opportunities for disruptive and fresh thinking. Conversely, finding the opportunity to explore that in such a large, layered organisation made that a frustrating challenge. I would also though recognise the scale and range of experience I had at NatWest was a unique career and skills reservoir that without doubt helped me in my post-NatWest career options and especially with my new role at TALiNT Partners.
I treasure the teams I had the opportunity to build and lead, something I was fortunate to do on a number of occasions. I take real pride in quite often taking individuals who had not perhaps had the opportunity they deserved and helping them grow to become valued contributors and SMEs.
Q: Is long service better than job hopping?
A: Simon Baddeley
This is a tricky question to answer. I personally have benefited from the advantages typical of long service as well as those of so-called job-hoppers. I have moved roles many times, had a significant number of opportunities presented to me based on my skills and experience inside the business and have also benefited from two six-week sabbaticals which were amazing.
A: Declan Slattery
I do recognise the trend in a more nomadic workforce, but I feel it is wrong to completely pigeonhole all younger workers in this way. The world of work has changed but our lifestyle needs at different life stages have not changed that much. The answer to this is being clearly able to articulate career pathways and organisational commitment to continual upskilling and internal mobility. My view is that the experience of work is now increasingly becoming a consideration against the reward value a job represents. Organisations that can successfully fuse these two elements are the ones that will retain the staff they need to prosper.
Q: How can businesses inspire longevity in their staff?
A: Declan Slattery
I spent almost 10 years as NatWest’s head of talent attraction and engagement, until May 2022. Ultimately, it comes down to the ability of an organisation to design and deliver a people proposition broad enough to offer something each individual employee and candidate can buy into. Too often employers rely on stagnant and dull employee value propositions (EVPs) designed at HR and board level that fail to evolve as the world and expectations of employees’ change. Employers must shed the fear of asking their employees and the external candidate market what they need and then shape their proposition to reflect the answers.
Communication between employers and employees has always been important but we are now at the stage in the evolution of work and employee expectations where that dialogue, however uncomfortable it may be, can no longer be ignored.
Tips for a happier workforce
There is no silver bullet, and a lot of companies are realising that what leads to satisfaction for one person will not for another. That said, we do believe there are certain things that can help overall, such as a purposeful job, open and honest communication, feeling safe and like you belong, and like you are well rewarded and recognised for the work you do.
The traits that make up a good workplace can include having clear objectives and goals, a strong culture, clear internal communication, and a transparent, people-centric ethos. To inspire longevity, organisations should:
Treat employees with respect, recognising their effort and achievements.
Encourage autonomy to inspire greater engagement and fulfilment in their role.
Regularly assess benefits and compensation.
Clearly outline expectations and provide suitable training and development to ensure growth and reduce turnover.
Understand the types of rewards and recognition employees value.
To achieve all this, organisations need to be willing to ask for employee feedback at regular intervals – and act upon it.
Find out how your organisation can raise employee satisfaction and longevity in our dedicated employee satisfaction guide, free to download: ‘Employee satisfaction: building a happier workforce’.