What employees want and how you can attract them

Your guide to the great talent hunt: what UK employees want (and how you can attract them on a budget)

The UK recruitment landscape is a battlefield. With talent shortages reaching an 18-year high, SMEs are feeling the squeeze. Soaring starting salaries and a candidate-driven market leave many wondering: what do employees actually want these days?

While competitive pay is undeniably important, it’s not the sole factor in jobseeker decision making. Here’s a peek into what truly motivates today’s workforce, and how you can leverage these desires to stand out, even with budget limitations:

Beyond the pay cheque: what employees’ value

  • Work-life balance: Since 2020, employees, more than ever, crave flexibility. This might be remote working options, flexible hours, and generous annual leave policies. But also, options for condensed hours and 4-day weeks, flexitime, and approval for time to attend appointments.
  • Wellbeing and mental health: Support for mental and physical wellbeing is a growing priority. Consider offering subsidised gym memberships, access to mindfulness programs, or an Employee Assistance Program (EAPs). Another attractive option would be to offer access to a GP service with 24/7, same day appointment options.
  • Learning and development: Invest in your people by offering training opportunities, upskilling programs, or educational reimbursements. This shows you value their growth and can help to keep them engaged.
  • Purpose and company culture: Employees want to feel like their work has meaning. Cultivate a positive, purpose-driven culture with strong values. It’s about celebrating and recognising contributions at every step in a process.

Cost-effective benefits for SMEs

While some perks might seem financially out of reach, there are plenty of budget-friendly ways to attract top talent:

  • Flexible work arrangements: Offer remote work, compressed workweeks, or flexible start/end times. This can boost productivity and employee satisfaction.
  • Casual work environment: A relaxed dress code and a focus on results over formality can be very appealing. Some people are just as productive in a hoodie and shorts are they are in a suit. This is another thing that 2020 flipped and should be embraced. Give people choice.
  • Volunteer opportunities: Partner with local charities and allow employees paid time off to volunteer. This fosters social responsibility and team bonding. It might be a half day whole team activity following a morning meeting, it doesn’t have to span a whole day. There will be endless options close to your business.
  • Wellness initiatives: Organise walking groups or host walking meetings and 121s. Have a day a week where people contribute to a healthy ‘potluck’ lunch or offer discounted gym memberships – you could even turn a meeting room into a gym with free access for all employees. Small gestures add up, and they are all things you can include in your job descriptions to peek people’s interest.
  • Recognition and rewards: Publicly acknowledge achievements big and small, celebrate milestones, give out thank you cards or even gift cards for a job well done.
  • Learning and development: Partner with local colleges to offer discounted courses or explore online learning platforms with free resources. Employees expanding their skillset could be to help the business but might also be for personal growth – both should be supported.
  • Strong company culture and ‘switch off’ policy: Promote open communication, team-building activities, and social events. Foster a sense of community and belonging. It also pays to have a fairly strict ‘switch off’ policy – this is where everyone knows they are only expected to work between certain times. If people are emailing or working outside of those times it can contribute to burnout. This needs to be controlled across the business, with senior management as the exemplars.

The bottom line: invest in your people

By focusing on what truly matters to your people, and treating them as people and not just employees, SMEs can compete effectively in the talent war. Remember, happy and engaged employees are more productive, more loyal, take fewer sick days, are less likely to experience ill mental health, and will ultimately become your brand ambassadors, attracting even more great talent. It’s an investment that pays off in the long run.

Further exploration and thinking outside the box:

  • Explore government grants or tax breaks available for employee training programs.
  • How about partnering with another SME to offer a joint benefits package, like group discounts on health insurance. Or even partnering with a completely different type of business for job swops, training or mentoring.
  • The main thing is to get creative! If you feel your budget is limiting your options, think outside the box. Brainstorm low-cost perks that align with your company culture – ask your existing team, get everyone involved.

By prioritising a well-rounded employee experience, you can build a competitive edge that will attract top talent – even in a challenging market.

Remember, it’s not just about the money – it’s about creating a work environment where people want and choose to be – somewhere they feel valued, supported, and empowered to thrive. The end result will be a boost for recruitment but also give your retention a huge boost too.

Other pages of interest

For more useful information, news and resources feel free to look around our website and in particular our Client and Candidate pages including Client Journey, Candidate Journey, Training Courses, Case Studies, Client Resources, Candidate Resources and our regularly updated Blog.

We recruit throughout the East Midlands covering Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutland and the surrounding areas, especially Market Harborough, Lutterworth, Leicester, Corby and Kettering. We help people find their perfect job and match suitable job seekers with businesses looking to hire the best candidates across our four specialisms – MarketingAccountancy & FinanceHR and Office