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Would you be prepared to take a pay cut to achieve job satisfaction?

By Nigel Heap, Regional Managing Director, Hays

Nearly half (48%) of the UK workforce is currently looking for a new job in an attempt to improve their job satisfaction. As somebody who has worked in recruitment for my entire career, this doesn’t necessarily surprise me, but I do hope that employers will take notice because in today’s competitive environment nobody can rest on their laurels and job satisfaction is high on the list both for prospective employees and existing staff.

Our new What Workers Want report showed that not only is it important, but almost two-thirds (62%) of employees would consider taking a pay cut in order to achieve other elements that contribute to their job satisfaction. For example, aspects that were favoured by employees were a better benefits package, advanced career progression or a better commute. Almost a third (32%) said that they would take a pay cut of over 5%, highlighting how much importance employees place on it and why employers need to offer more than just a competitive salary.

An engaging and diverse culture is also a high priority for employees, especially when it comes to looking for a new role. Nearly two-thirds (62%) said they would be prepared to take a pay cut to work for an organisation that offers a better cultural fit with their personality or personal needs. Over half (52%) of these would be willing to take a significant pay cut of up to 10%.

The report also found that almost half (49%) of employees rate their work life balance as average, poor or terrible and more than a third (36%) said they would be willing to take a pay cut for additional annual leave. Employees clearly value their holiday allowances and employers should not only ensure theirs are competitive, but that employees are empowered to make the most of their time off.

In summary, employees said they would be prepared to take a pay cut if it resulted in an improvement in the following:

  • Better benefits
  • Improved career progression
  • Better commute
  • More annual leave


We, therefore, recommend three areas that employers should focus on: 

1. Promote the total rewards package

There is a gap in employee awareness about what is available to them. Make sure information is easily accessible and communicated consistently from when someone first comes across your organisation online through to their regular dealings with their manager. Assess your own hiring managers’ knowledge of the organisation’s benefits policies and what is on offer to prospective candidates.

2. Interviews need to be two-way

Despite employers insisting that they discuss the most pertinent aspects of the job and rewards package during interviews, far fewer candidates acknowledged this. Employers should review their interview structure and techniques and consider whether additional training is necessary so their hiring managers are confident discussing what is on offer during interviews.

3. Celebrate staff achievements

All generations and seniority levels prioritise recognition and respect, and their own personal development, so consider whether your promotion criteria and rewards packages are in line with what your employees want. Make sure you are promoting achievements across the organisation, not just within the team. Use your staff’s milestones to reinforce what is available to them, such as professional development opportunities when there are promotions.

Overall it is clear that although pay is important, it is rarely the main motivator for individuals and employees are willing to compromise on it. If professionals are willing to take a pay cut for aspects like a better cultural fit, annual leave and career progression, they should be viewed as vital areas of differentiation for organisations. Employers need to look at what they are communicating to prospective candidates – to make sure their offering looks attractive – and celebrating their staff achievements if they are to have a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best talent.

Request your copy of What Workers Want Report 2017 or contact us to find your local recruiting expert.

About this author

Nigel is Regional Managing Director for Hays UK & Ireland and EMEA, and Chairman of Asia Pacific. He joined Hays UK in 1988 as a trainee consultant. By 1997, he was Managing Director of Hays Australia, and consequently expanded operations to New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia. In 2006, he was appointed Managing Director of Asia Pacific. He became UK & Ireland Managing Director and Chairman of the Asia Pacific business in 2012. In 2018 Nigel was appointed Regional Managing Director for Hays UK & Ireland and EMEA, and retains his position as Chairman of Asia Pacific.

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