Compensation and "Other" Employment Factors: How Surveys Can Mislead

A recent survey by Watson-Wyatt shows that top-performing employees under the age of 30 consider the following as the most important factors in making employment decisions:

  1. Opportunity to develop skills
  2. Opportunity for promotion
  3. Compensation
  4. Paid time off / vacation time
  5. Organizational culture (people)


But this type of research can lull some firms (all too many) into the assumption that compensation isn't all that important, since it is only one factor among five (or ten, or twenty).

What is easy to miss is the fact that factors not explicitly labeled as "compensation" are directly or indirectly related to the accumulation of personal wealth. Three of the five factors listed above are examples of this: opportunity to develop skills, opportunity for promotion, and paid time off (clearly part of a total compensation package).

Dig deeply enough in a well-run focus group and you will find 'wormholes' from a variety of employment issues/topics to rewards. Ranking survey factors is fine for a fast-take on employee attitudes--but for a real understanding of what captures and holds great employees, companies must do *real* research into the less obvious realms of their employees' thoughts and emotions.