War for talent: can a well-designed workplace be your key weapon?

Posted by Gary Duguid on 14/04/2015

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The war for top talent is as intense as ever.

With the economy only just emerging from the longest recession since the Second World War, it might seem reasonable to assume there’s a glut of talent out there seeking a dearth of jobs. Think again. The war for top talent is as intense as ever, yet a highly effective weapon in attracting and retaining the cream of the crop is often overlooked – the workplace.

Saatchi & Saatchi office in Thailand

A space “that inspires, is genuinely fun to come to everyday, and that didn’t take itself too seriously.”


© Saatchi & Saatchi

New rules of employee engagement

Gone are the days when a fat pay check could be guaranteed to woo the brightest and the best to your company. 

A report by management consultancy Hay Group joins the raft of research that shows the rules of attracting, and retaining, workers have changed. New ‘megatrends’ are redefining how people work and what they want from their employer. Individualism, digitalisation and demographic change are now the key drivers in employee engagement.

To look at these trends in a bit more detail. As the baby boomers retire from the workforce, the demands of Generation X (those born between the early 1960s and late 1970s) and Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) and Generation Z (1995-2009) are coming to the fore. 

These workers, and in particular the Millennials, value flexibility, wellbeing and sustainability over traditional benefits like salary and pension. And the call for flexibility has been magnified by the huge (and relatively very recent) advance in digital communications. It has completely blurred the distinction between personal life and work. Even if you’re not a ‘digital native’, the chances are that you too have access to your work email or Twitter account on your smart phone. 

Work has become a fluid concept.

Employers have risen to these challenges in a number of ways with more organisations offering improved work/life balance through flexible and/or remote working. Employers are also looking far more carefully at how their core values, expressed through brand and company culture, can differentiate them from their rivals.  

The ultimate aim? To become an employer of choice. Because for most businesses in today’s growth sectors, it’s having the right mix of people that ultimately wins new business.

Perhaps it ought to stand to reason that the workplace plays an integral role in any strategy for attracting and retaining new talent. After all, most of us still spend most of our working week in the office, and even remote workers will regularly come into the physical office to meet with colleagues. In fact, research in the US suggests that work environment accounts for up to 25% of job satisfaction. 

But take a quick glance at any job website – the type of workplace (as opposed to location) is rarely listed as a benefit.

Innocent Drinks office in London

‘Fruity Towers’ is decked with fake grass, picnic benches and, the pièce de résistance, a classic red telephone box.

© Innocent Drinks

So what is an appealing, well designed workplace?

For starters, it’s a place that powerfully communicates your brand values. If these revolve around the concepts of transparency, sustainability and creativity, then your company’s base needs to reflect this. To give a basic example, it’s no good saying to a bright graduate you (as a company) act with responsibility to the environment, if you’re using energy hungry electric heaters. 

It’s also a place that caters to workers actual rather than assumed needs. Prospective mobile workers, whose electronic devices act as a desktop, don’t necessarily need a dedicated (physical) chair and desk. They need functional spaces to support focussed or concentrated work as well as space for collaborative work.

Above all, what people (of any age) want in a workplace is a comfortable, functional place where they can be themselves and work in the style that suits them best. No one wants to sit on tenterhooks all day because they are worried about talking in an oversize, open-plan office, or sit opposite a grey wall while they try and dream up creative ideas. 

To give you a sense of the importance of workplace details, we’ve worked with organisations where the quality of the office kitchen and even coffee making facilities were ranked as a priority work environment concern by workers. But despite the influence of workplace on workers’ job choice, the workplace is under-deployed as a recruitment tool. 

This creates an opportunity for your business. By investing in an office design that genuinely appeals to potential recruits and meets the diverse needs of existing workers, you’ll gain an immediate advantage over the vast majority of employers. And that’s because most continue to overlook the potential of the workplace to be one of their greatest assets.