What Drives Retention Rates?

Around the world, pay matters most to workers. But other factors that keep them loyal vary quite a lot, a new study finds. And they’re changing as the nature of work evolves.

The results are part of the 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey by Willis Towers Watson. Every other year the company surveys workers around the globe to see what rewards and conditions keep them happy or attract them to new jobs.

This year’s survey, conducted in April and May, included 31,000 employees in 29 markets. In studying retention factors, the London-based consulting firm ranked eight countries, including the United States. (See the full results at the bottom of this post.)

Pay was the top priority in each, says Laura Sejen, managing director for talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson.  After that, the No. 2 retention driver in most countries, including the U.S., was career advancement opportunities.

For multinational companies, those two factors are fundamental to attracting and retaining workers, Sejen says. Workers want clear expectations not only for their current job, but also for what they need to move up.

For a global employer, “If I could only do two things right, I would focus on those,” Sejen says.

Career advancement opportunities wasn’t the No. 2 retention driver everywhere, however. In China it was the physical work environment. In Brazil it was the length of the commute. In India it was job security.

Sejen notes that work environment has been moving up in the list of priorities globally. She thinks longer hours and a trend toward open offices and shared workspaces may have increased employee awareness of the physical environment as a factor in their job satisfaction.

“That, I think, is just a reflection of how the work environment has changed,” Sejen says. “It’s important. We spend a lot of time at work.”

Among the eight countries studied, job security was No. 2 only in India. But it’s slowly rising in importance around the world, Sejen says.

How workers define job security varies, however. Few workers expect a job for life. But many worry about losing financial security, and others worry about their jobs changing.

Sometimes mundane local conditions like traffic congestion influence the rankings. It makes sense that commute times would be important in Brazil, because cities there tend to be dense, sprawling and challenging to navigate, Sejen notes. “If you’ve ever been to Sao Paulo, you can appreciate that.”

Retention drivers Globally Brazil Canada China Germany India Mexico U.K. U.S.
Base pay/salary 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Career advancement opportunities 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 2 2
Physical work environment 3 4 2 5 3
Job security 4 7 3 3 2 6 3 3
Work-related stress 5 6 4 5 6 7
Trust in senior leadership 6 5 4 4
Relationship with supervisor 7 5 7 7 6 7
Length of commute 2 4 4 4 5 6
Retirement benefits 6 6 4 5
Flexible work environments 5
Challenging work 6
Opportunity to learn new skills 7 7 7 5
Source: 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey by Willis Towers Watson