It may not be surprising that the way in which a business defines success is not exactly the same way as its employees define success.

In fact, the recent Global Career Aspirations Survey by Talent Solutions: Right Management has shown that only one in 10 employees defines success in the workplace as achieving high performance and productivity. Businesses, on the other hand, are focused almost exclusively on performance and productivity as success measures.

The company shares some insights on how employees and employers can align on their priorities:

What Employers Want
To succeed in business, a company needs workers that perform well and reach their productivity goals. Therefore, employers favour achievers, people whose ambitions align with that of the company’s. Motivating employees to perform optimally and reach targets presents an ongoing challenge – a vital one if the business is to keep thriving.

ManpowerGroup South Africa’s managing director, Lyndy van den Barselaar, says: “High performers have a disproportionate impact on business results. However, as the survey shows, being a top performer and being highly productive are not the most important definers of success to employees.

“Talent shortages for in-demand skills persist and have caused HR departments worldwide to rethink how they develop and motivate individuals to meet performance goals. To attract and retain top talent, organisations must make development a priority and enable their leaders to mentor employees to expand their skills, capabilities and experience.”

What Employees Want
Understanding how employees define career success is essential to motivating them to perform. It is therefore vital that employers and employees engage on defining career goals and aspirations.

“People are happy and engaged at work when they are inspired,” says Van den Barselaar. “Understanding employee career motivations and aspirations is key to creating a high-performance culture that motivates individuals to do their best work. When individuals experience effective career development through ongoing career conversations with their managers, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated and ready to take on new challenges.”

So how do employees define success at work? The four stand-out factors, according to the survey, are: Work/life balance; work enjoyment/happiness; respect from leaders; and mutual trust. In addition, employees won’t hesitate to switch jobs for better work/life balance and higher pay.

Work/life balance
While being the best at what they do is important to just 17% of respondents, a whopping 45% of employees rate work/life balance as their primary career goal. In contrast, among those that do aspire to be the best in their area, this is highest among Baby Boomers at 22%, with Generation X at 17% and Millennials at 14%.

Enjoyment and happiness at work
While salary, interestingly, scores a mere 19% as a success indicator, enjoyment of and happiness at work comes in at 26%. Being a high performer comes in at only 10% of employees, and this holds true across generations (BB 8%; Gen-X 11%, Mill 10%). Happiness and enjoyment also beat respect and recognition (15%) and doing the best work (18%).

Respect from leaders
Employees bring a wealth of varied knowledge and experience to any workplace and 53% of them would like respect and recognition for this from their leadership. Mutual trust between leaders and employees scores highly as well (51%), as do transparency (37%), learning and development (32%), and a relationship of equals regardless of job title (30%).

Mutual trust between colleagues
Even more important than respect from leaders is a sense of mutual trust between colleagues. Scoring a staggering 59% in the career success survey, it beats out even work/life balance as a priority for employees. Close on the heels of mutual trust are respect for the employee’s knowledge (48%), a relationship of equals (46%) and transparency (46%).

Why Employees Leave
While many assume that people switch jobs for salary or promotion considerations, this is only partly true. Higher compensation does, indeed, score highly, at 35%, as a reason to change jobs. Equally important, also at 35%, is a better work/life balance. More challenging assignments and a different work culture both score 25% on the reasons to change jobs.

Changing Expectations
What this survey has brought to light most clearly is that people generally are less concerned with being a high performer than achieving a balanced, respectful, and enjoyable work experience. This strongly reflects our changing attitudes to work and careers, and it should encourage managers and business owners to take note and find ways to motivate employees differently.

“The adage ‘a happy employee is a productive employee’ holds true, and by focusing on ensuring employees are achieving what they truly consider the hallmark of success, employers will see better work, and higher productivity, as a natural result,” says Van den Barselaar.