Are workers choosing mental health, well-being, and a healthy work-life balance over career success?

Traditionally, the top priority for most professionals was having a satisfactory and stable income that could increase year on year. Over time, many have come to define success by how far and how fast we can rise through the ranks.

However, over the last decade or two, there has been a shift in how many professionals perceive work, largely amplified by the pandemic. Our latest market report, 2024 Talent Trends: The Expectation Gap, reaffirms this, revealing 49% of people would turn down promotions to maintain their well-being and, in turn, their work-life balance. What’s more, this has increased year on year.

During the pandemic as remote working was normalized, the concept of “work-life balance” became more tangible, and many found themselves with more free time than ever. With fewer hours spent in the office and commuting, people had the opportunity to invest more time in other important areas of their lives. That change—and the extra focus many workers were able to give to their mental health—showed many people what work-life balance could look like. Therefore, it’s unsurprising to see how this period forever changed many employees’ relationships with work.

Achieving job satisfaction: The role of work-life balance

Work-life balance plays a crucial role in overall job satisfaction. Our research found that while individuals have varying priorities, such as competitive salaries and opportunities for growth and recognition, work-life balance remained at the forefront for most (51%) in terms of job satisfaction. By comparison:

  • 49% cited salary
  • Hybrid and flexible work arrangements were the most important factor for 30%
  • 30% feel that gratitude, recognition, and appreciation play a huge role in their job satisfaction

With 51% of candidates saying that work-life balance is more important than a higher salary when it comes to defining career success, the former now appears non-negotiable for most workers.

What does work-life balance look like?

In the post-pandemic workforce, workers have varying ideas of work-life balance depending on their needs and preferences. Therefore, as flexibility becomes increasingly valued, it's crucial to understand that it's not a one-size-fits-all concept.

Employees across various industries express a desire for autonomy in their working patterns, stretching beyond the “expected” hybrid or flexible working arrangements.

Key aspects of flexibility for workers include:

  • Hybrid working arrangements, say 55%
  • Flexible hours for 70% of workers
  • Ability to choose office vs. remote workdays for 52% of respondents

This shift in behavior is not confined to any specific industry, either. Our research indicates that the demand for flexibility and work-life balance spans across nearly every sector. Employees express similar expectations even in industries where adopting hybrid working models might pose challenges due to the nature of the work.

Learn more about the changing meaning of workplace flexibility.

The key to success lies in finding a mutually beneficial middle ground.  

When policies are rigidly enforced without considering individual needs and preferences, there can be unintended consequences. For example, where two-fifths of US respondents are working in the office more than they were a year ago due to changes in company policy, 52% of those affected are actively seeking new employment opportunities as a result.

This highlights the negative impact of overly restrictive policies on employee morale, engagement, and ultimately retention.  

Conversely, empowering workers with autonomy, such as flexible work arrangements, can lead to increased job satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty. Leaders who recognize their workforce’s diverse needs can cultivate a more positive and sustainable work environment, ultimately benefiting both the employees and the organization.

What will this mean for the way we work?

Work-life balance will likely never completely supersede salary in terms of importance. Ultimately, salaries provide people with security, safety, and comfort while helping workers make the most of their spare time. For these reasons, it will always be essential. But work-life balance is highly valued by the workforce, and organizations that want to attract and keep top talent are prioritizing it.  

Going forward, employers will likely focus on ensuring high productivity while still offering staff the work-life balance they want. Salary remains the top factor in attracting candidates to a business—but a healthy work-life balance will encourage them to stay.  

To address this critical issue, both employers and employees can take proactive steps, such as establishing clear communication channels, implementing flexible working reviews, and understanding individual needs.

What’s next?

If you are unhappy with your work-life balance in your current role, it might be time for a change. Search our current jobs, or submit your resume today and one of our expert consultants will be in touch.

If you’re hiring, it’s important to refine your employer branding to ensure you keep top talent once they’re through the door. Our 2024 Talent Trends report will give you the full picture of the modern workforce. Download now for insights to fuel effective attraction and retention strategies. [CTA BUTTON: Get the full report]

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