Salary or Purpose? How to navigate the hybrid workplace

Written by Angela Ferguson


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work and what people seek from the workplace. Job security and hybrid work options have increased in importance. Greater awareness around mental health and wellness has also risen. And as pursuing holistic fulfillment has become a bigger focus for employees, the workplace – its environment and the experience it delivers – has a critical role to play.

So, what does this mean? Are people now willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work?

As many Australians battle inflation pressures along with the uncertainty that came with the pandemic, it is no surprise that over 1 in 2 employees still rank salary as more important in a job than feeling fulfilled and having a sense of purpose. Last year Future X Collective surveyed a diverse mix of Australian knowledge workers to find out what was most important to them. Interesting, 63% of Australians ranked salary as the most important factor in a workplace when considering a potential job, with one-third (39%) ranking feeling fulfilled and having purpose as second, whilst incentives like birthdays off and team drinks ranked last amongst respondents.

Over the last couple of years, when delivering workplace strategy projects for a number of Australian corporates it became evident that health and wellbeing was top of mind for many. Further research proved this with 1 in 3 (36%) Australians reporting that the Covid-19 pandemic made them prioritise a greater work-life balance, with only 4% of respondents stating that the pandemic has made them want to dedicate more time to work and career progression.

The pandemic has triggered many things when it comes to peoples’ experience of work, with many reassessing their personal values and how their professional life aligns with this. The key for businesses to winning the war for talent is to find a balance of salary, purpose, and flexible working conditions to drive employee satisfaction and an elevated workplace culture. Destination workplaces can support culture and behaviour to achieve this. Here are our three key tips for companies to provide a holistic work experience for employees which can help to boost personal fulfilment and professional purpose.

1. Take a ‘Test and Learn’ approach to create your new hybrid workspace

Many organisations are unsure about how to best navigate hybrid working. Rather than avoiding making decisions to deter from any potential mistakes, one way forward is to take an experimental ‘test and learn’ approach to supporting employees in a meaningful experience of work.

A way to get employee feedback and capture hopes for the future in real time is to engage them in an interactive online workshop. The findings of these workshops can be implemented as experiments or ‘pilot’ areas in the existing workplace, so that people have an opportunity to test what is going to work best for them, provide feedback and often then adjust in real time. This is an effective way to reach the desired solution and is also a great way for employees to feel included in the process. This deepens their sense of value with an organisation and increases their desire to be in the office.

Finding the balance between what the business needs to create revenue and drive growth, and what employees desire from their working experience is where workplaces will thrive.

2. Play out hybrid workplace culture

The movement labelled ‘The Great Resignation’ in 2021 saw many people leave their jobs, often without another employment offer in play. An article from Harvard suggests it stems from a great exploration. The current talent shortage (unemployment in August 2022 is 3.5%) makes it important now more than ever to understand what is encouraging employees to accept new job offers. It is also a great way to discover ways in which workplaces can be optimised, whilst increasing your likelihood to retain employees, as well as attracting new ones.

The workplace built environment can play a significant role in an employee’s holistic experience of work:

  • Workplace design: Any environment that has not been updated since before the pandemic is likely outdated for hybrid working and will therefore need a review. This has a great impact on employee engagement at the office and includes flexible spaces for different workstyles, natural lighting and fresh air, seamless technology.
  • Facilitate Social Connections: An engaging and social environment is critical in a destination workplace. Creating opportunities for employees to connect face to face develops stronger, more meaningful relationships between the team, and lead to staff feeling part of a purpose-driven organisation. This can be done through weekly lunches, work anniversary celebrations, wellness programs, group charity work and more.
  • Professional Development: Nurturing opportunities for growth and the development of employees is crucial. An employee is likely to become dissatisfied and seek out new opportunities elsewhere if they feel there is no room for progression. Companies also benefit from strengthening the skills of their employees as they are more engaged and productive. A workplace can host workshops, support networking events, facilitate learning and development programs that underpin professional development.

3. Define ‘purpose’ in the future workplace

Employees shouldn’t have to choose between an appropriate salary and work with purpose, as a holistic experience of work should offer both. Many people will identify ‘purposeful work’ as that which is meaningful to themselves and others, by creating a positive impact on the world around them.

Consider how your business can work with employees to find meaning in their current positions. Whether that is taking on more pro-bono clients, organising monthly community outreach, or improving your company’s sustainability and climate change practices.

Most importantly, employers need to open the conversation to each team member, as our research shows that most individuals require a tailored response depending on their age, gender, career stage and household living situation.

No job lacks purpose and meaningful work can be as simple as providing individuals with opportunities to make the best use of their natural skills and talents. However, companies can add additional features to staff’s roles that can further support personal fulfilment.

For more information read our blog: Managing people’s expectations in a hybrid workplace

At Future X Collective we’ve always believed that people are the product of their environment … it has been our experience for more than 20 years of strategizing and designing workplaces that the better environment you create for people – then the better their experience of work is, and in turn the happier and healthier they are. The simple tips we have provided can go a long way towards supporting navigate the hybrid workplace.

Future X Collective works with clients to drive new workplace strategies– you can click here now to learn more about how we can help.