Insights for employers

Back to articles

Purposeful employees can make winter blues a thing of the past

7 July, 2020

“Those who came before me, lived through their vocations”, sang New Order in their 1983 hit, Blue Monday. Three-and-a-half decades on, these lyrics of the ’80s classic resonate with me, especially during these cold, dark months of the year.

So many people do live through their vocations, far beyond a point that is healthy or productive. Working long hours has almost become a cult, to the extent that the average British employee works 10 hours’ overtime per week; six out of every 10 of whom do so unpaid.

That’s almost 500 unpaid hours a year.

Based on a 40-hour week, these employees are effectively working for free from mid-October.

It’s no wonder that in the wake of Christmas spending and attempts at new year’s resolutions, almost eight million Brits fall behind with their finances in January.

But there is a shift in attitude developing in the younger generation, who aren’t going to stand for working long hours with no reward. Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce and will make up 75% of it by 2025. What they, and the generation after them — ‘Generation Z’ — care about is purpose and job satisfaction.

We looked into what members of our network want and found that overwhelmingly, young people care less about remuneration and advancement in a firm than they do about company culture. Almost 40% of respondents said the most important thing to consider when choosing a role was the firm’s people and culture.

For young people, enjoying and being passionate about what they do is far more important than making money. But this certainly does not mean they lack ambition; 29% of our network said that the most important characteristic of a job role was professional training and development, more than any other.

A contributing factor to this breaking point of unpaid overtime has been the competition between graduates for limited places at the so-called top firms. But now there is a power shift; young people move jobs more frequently than past generations — spending an average of two years in each role. It is therefore vital that companies are competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

When asked what success five years after graduation would look like, 36% of graduates say the most important thing would be to have a good work-life balance, more than double the amount who answered their ambition was to earn a lot of money. This is a growing consensus that has brought debates over the four-day week, flexible working and worker’s rights into the mainstream political sphere.

What young people seem to have realised, that those who came before did not, is that the number of hours you work is not the most important thing. Without a work-life balance, an employee cannot be productive — they are present at work, but not necessarily engaged. In fact, a study by the Institute of Labor Economics found that there are less than five effective working hours in a day, while HSBC found that nine out of ten employees considered flexible working to be the biggest motivator to their productivity levels.

Furthermore, we found that our network believes the most important part of working culture is being in a friendly and respectable environment. This contributes again to the power shift we see in the working world; young people will not choose to work for the biggest firms if they do not foster a positive environment.

Flexible working is a part of this, but so is providing mental health support, diversifying the workforce — whether that is addressing a gender pay gap, a lack of BAME employees, or inaccessibility for disabled employees — and recognising and rewarding employee achievements. Companies must realise that purpose pays — Nielsen found that two in three consumers would pay more for a socially conscious brand — and the trends that young people demand are improving the workplace.

The main difference between this and previous generations, is that these are the first prepared to force businesses into a different way of behaving. They are no longer prepared to live through their vocations for no reward. And as the world of work continues to change and purpose-driven graduates move into work, the shadow of winter blues can be lifted.