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The Expectation Gap

01 July 2024

Story by
Simon Kent Head of Content – The HR World

The Expectation Gap

In the world of HR recruitment in the UK, things are shifting. “Candidates are aiming higher than ever before, and that’s a good thing,” says Sarah McKenna, specialist HR recruiter.

“They’re asking for what they deserve and what matters to them. But there’s a gap forming between what candidates want and what businesses can offer.”

McKenna’s view is backed up by recent research from recruitment specialist Michael Page. Their second annual Talent Trends report has uncovered a mismatch in workplace expectations on a wider scale, with UK workers and employers misaligned on salaries, work-life balance, and Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. The ‘Expectation Gap’ has emerged from a significant survey of 50,000 participants globally, with 2,400 from the UK. It stands as one of the most comprehensive workplace surveys of its kind.

The report found the workplace in a state of some turbulence – almost half (46 per cent) of UK respondents claimed to be actively looking for a new role, with 54 per cent citing salary as the main driving force for doing so. 

The report went on to observe how increasing wage demands are creating knock-on issues for recruitment, with a sizeable 60 per cent of UK organisations finding it difficult to recruit talent in the last 12 months. Almost half (49 per cent) put matching salary expectations as the main barrier.

“Rather than let this ‘Expectation Gap’ widen, business leaders should communicate their offering clearly and transparently in order to manage expectations,” says Doug Rode, Managing Director UK&I at Michael Page. “Leaders should also be prepared to remain agile and open-minded in any working pattern negotiations with employees, as our research has further underlined that work-life balance is a need, rather than a nice-to-have.”

Indeed, despite salary being king for jobseekers, priorities shift once they are settled in a role. Over half (56 per cent) of workers said work-life balance is the most important factor to ongoing job satisfaction, compared to 45 per cent who cited salary. What’s more, 64 per cent of workers would turn down a promotion in order to maintain well-being, up from 57 per cent in 2023.

“Establishing a harmonious workplace is a challenge now more than ever, but it is possible and is likely to require some creativity,” Rode adds. “For example, businesses might not be able to offer salary increases, but could they think about updating holiday allowances, adding private medical, or work from anywhere policies? Making sure that DE&I policies and strategies are robust and inclusive is also critical. These are all things that can be used in talent attraction and retention strategies to make packages appealing, especially during a tricky economic landscape.”

According to Sarah McKenna the issue is being played out across all industries and frequently in the mid-management level. The result is candidates who withdraw from recruitment processes, don’t show up for interviews or even when they are hired seem less than enthusiastic about their new position. 

At the same time McKenna acknowledges that businesses have a clear challenge in this area: “How do you manage to meet these demands and still maintain financial stability?” she asks: “It’s not easy. But there’s also an opportunity here. Companies that can adapt and change with the times stand to gain a lot. Offering flexible working options and good benefits can help attract and keep top talent.”

McKenna lists better benefits, development, qualifications, flexibility in work hours/days, free parking, free travel and higher salaries as primary features on candidate’s wish lists.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this,” she maintains. “Every business will need to figure out what works best for them. But one thing’s for sure: it’s time for businesses to step up and meet the changing needs of their employees. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it for everyone involved. Let’s embrace this change and make the most of it.”




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