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Job seekers want high salaries, but businesses struggling to keep up

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A global survey of 50,000 participants has uncovered a mismatch in workplace expectations, with UK workers and employers misaligned on salaries, work-life balance, and Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives.

The second annual Talent Trends report from recruitment specialist Michael Page, part of FTSE 250 PageGroup, is the most comprehensive workplace survey of its kind.

Almost half (46%) of the 2,400 UK respondents said they are actively looking for a new role, with 54% citing salary as the main driving force. These increasing wage demands are creating knock-on issues for recruitment, with a sizeable 60% of UK organisations saying they have found it difficult to recruit talent in the last 12 months. Almost half (49%) put matching salary expectations as the main barrier.

Described by Michael Page as ‘The Expectation Gap’, this significant mismatch highlights the complexities of modern workforce dynamics and makes it even more difficult for employers to develop hiring and retention strategies that work for both sides.

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

The ‘Expectation Gap’ also applies to attitudes towards flexibility. Over half of respondents (52%) rank flexibility as a critical factor when applying for a role, up 8% year-on-year. Despite workers’ desire for flexibility, 32% are now working in the office more than they were 12 months ago with 58% of workers doing so due to changes in company policy.

However, flexibility alone is unlikely to guarantee employee satisfaction. Culture and inclusion are also areas businesses need to keep a close eye on, with less than two in five (39%) respondents saying they think their workplace is inclusive. One in ten say they’ve been discriminated against at work and, concerningly, 64% of those who experienced marginalisation or discrimination at work said they didn’t report it.

DE&I is an area that will continue to come under the microscope with five different generations now active in the workforce. The 2024 Talent Trends report revealed that those over 50 and those in their 30s were the most likely to say they had been subjected to age discrimination.

Doug Rode, Managing Director UK&I at Michael Page, said: “Last year’s inaugural Talent Trends report alerted UK businesses to a fundamentally changed work landscape where, post-pandemic, employees were taking the reins and reassessing their priorities. This year, as the dynamic between employers and employees begins to rebalance, a tension is emerging that cannot be overlooked.

“Rather than let this ‘Expectation Gap’ widen, business leaders should communicate their offering clearly and transparently in order to manage expectations. 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.

“Establishing a harmonious workplace is a challenge now more than ever, but it is possible and is likely to require some creativity. 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.”

Nicholas Kirk, CEO at PageGroup, added, “Amid ongoing global pressures, such as high inflation, uncertain economies, and rapid technological advancements, the world of work continues to be turbulent. Our report highlights a crucial need to bridge the gap between employee expectations and employer realities to navigate these challenges successfully.

“It’s essential to prioritise open dialogue and collaborative problem-solving. By fostering a culture of mutual understanding and adaptability, both businesses and their employees can flourish in this rapidly changing landscape.”

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