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Purpose vs Pay: how to win the tech talent game

  • Publish Date: Posted 18 days ago
  • Author: Andy Wadsworth
I start with a message of hope. Tech candidates are willing to accept lower salaries for jobs with genuine real-world purpose, versus those where the outcome is made palatable because of how much it pays. Yes, you read that right.
Andy Wadsworth, Morson Tech Director

At a time when we are seeing costs, from energy, fuel, and food, rise across the board it seems strange that for many candidates in the tech field, pay isn’t the primary motivator. However, increasingly, we're seeing that this is the case. It could be a post-lockdown thing, a generational thing, or it could be that beyond a certain threshold in the UK, more money doesn’t necessarily make you any happier.

So, does purpose really trump pay when it comes to engaging tech talent? Let's explore...

Guest post provided by Andy Wadsworth, Morson Tech Director

Purpose vs Pay: how to win the tech talent game

From education and government to gaming and online gambling, each sector has specific skills requirements for experts within their technical field. Engaging capable tech talent has never been more competitive and when there’s a discrepancy between what each can afford to pay it's essential to understand what motivates these technical experts to work for an organisation.

Let’s compare two employment value propositions:

“Through the creative use of data, IoT and machine learning enabling UK holidaymakers to get through the airport as swiftly as possible” vs. “using your developer skills to help online gambling companies generate even more revenue”. Of these potential jobs, which is the more attractive to a potential candidate? Online gaming pays significantly more, the airport has a greater real-world positive impact on people's lives.

The point of making this admittedly sweeping and polarising comparison, is to prompt employers hiring at all levels to consider how you can highlight purpose or legacy into your vacancies and/or wider organisation.

What are tech candidates looking for from employers in 2023?

In LinkedIn's Employer Value Propositions Survey (between July 2020 - June 2021) a 'good work-life balance' holds the top spot when it comes to employer value proposition importance for tech talent. Coming in second is 'excellent compensation and benefits', demonstrating that, whilst not the primary driver, a competitive salary will always have value for candidates looking for a new role. 'Colleagues and culture that inspire employees to do their best', 'a role that meaningfully impacts the company’s success' and 'a company with a purposeful mission' make up the top five.

Clearly purpose matters. So, what can employers offer to entice the very best tech candidates?
  1. A culture that inspires. No, not table tennis and free beer. Instead, a company culture that can be actively seen and inspires candidates to do their best. A company’s values are more important than ever. Job seekers are more likely to apply for jobs at companies they respect and admire. If employees’ values align with their employers, they will naturally have a higher degree of positive association with their job and are more likely to work harder. They will feel proud of their employer and are likely to vocalise this, which can contribute to greater brand awareness and positive working culture.

  2. Equality, diversity and inclusion. Gen Z and Millennials made up 59% of the global workforce by 2020. They have lived with tech nearly all of their lives and many are moving into this field for work. But, this is a generation that isn’t happy to just go with the flow and many have expectations for their employers that are non-negotiable. For this generation of talent, equality and inclusion are at the forefront of decision-making. In the US for example, 77% of Gen Z said that a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there. It is not merely enough anymore to have the largest salaries on offer, the new generation of candidates want to know they are working somewhere that looks beyond profit and empowers their employees to make a difference.

  3. Good compensation but money doesn’t buy happiness. In 2020, researchers analysed data from the Office for National Statistics and Happy Planet Index to find out how much money the average Briton would need to live a happy life. In the UK, £33,864 per individual is the answer (this number has likely increased given our nation's cost of living crisis). This isn’t to say businesses should look at that number and decide that’s the perfect salary to offer. Simply anything beyond that figure will continue to improve the standard of living but there isn’t hard evidence to suggest it improves an individual's level of happiness. In tech, where salaries often exceed this benchmark, a large salary may not be a key driver. Knowing your work is making a difference and is contributing more than just profits has become increasingly more important for candidates across the UK tech market. Purpose, coupled with clear career progression and ongoing training are factors which positively impact attraction, retention and company loyalty/advocacy.

  4. Work-life balance and flexible working arrangements. A 9-5 Monday to Friday is becoming less and less attractive for candidates, the offer of flexible work removes many of the anxieties a highly structured working pattern brings. Covid-19 inspired new ways of working and, for many, a new perspective. Candidates now expect working from home, flexible hours and open and effective management from employers as standard. Pay has taken a backseat to cultural alignment and well-being. Candidates are not actively hoping for care from their employer - they are demanding it.

Starting to rethink how you frame a job or value proposition can be daunting. But start simple. In years one and two what will the person who takes on this job have achieved? What positive spin can you put on their contribution to the environment, society, sustainability or economy?

Define, refine and sell that message across all touchpoints in the recruitment cycle – from job descriptions, Meetups and networking events, written, video and social content through to interviews and onboarding.

Talent messaging around purpose is something I love talking about, if you would like to discuss any of the themes of this article contact me at andy.wadsworth@morson.com or connect on LinkedIn by clicking here.