The Career/Engagement Equation

As they say, money can't buy happiness. Turns out, it can't buy job satisfaction either'at least not by itself. That's one of the conclusions confirmed this year in Working Mother's What Moms Choose: The Working Mother Report, a survey of more than 3,700 mothers, what they think about joining the workforce versus staying at home, and what employers can do to keep high-performing moms in the workplace. While it's a no-brainer that salary matters, money is not the only predictor of satisfaction and performance on the job. In fact, research makes it increasingly clear that dollars alone aren't enough.

The study builds on last year's What Moms Think, a national survey of nearly 5,000 men and women about job priorities. The 2010 report made it clear that 'career' matters, a fact reinforced by this year's data. Those who thought of themselves as having a career'as opposed to merely earning a paycheck'were significantly more satisfied with their lives, happier both at work and at home, and showed markedly stronger levels of engagement. 'Moms who view work as a career,' read the earlier study, 'feel more satisfied, healthy, and fulfilled on almost every measure than moms who say they work primarily for financial reasons.

Such information has big implications for employers scrambling to do more with less. Engagement is one of the strongest predictors of job performance, and satisfied, career-oriented employees score significantly higher on engagement scales'more than 11% higher in the Working Mother Report. 'Many employers have gone as lean as possible in response to the economy and truly need each employee to perform at their maximum to achieve strategic business goals,' says Kim Callaway, vice president of Horizons Workforce ConsultingTM. 'That kind of maximum performance is only possible when you have employees who are highly engaged.' The Definition of Career So what makes a 'career?' Surprisingly, it isn't money. While salary matters, Working Mother makes it clear it's not all important. Many of the study's satisfied 'career moms,' in fact, earn modest paychecks'more than half taking home less than $50,000 a year. Something that does play a big part, says Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, is upward mobility: the potential for promotions, she told the Work Life Congress last month in New York. The study also cites employer support, respect for contributions, and the sense that work fulfills a higher purpose whether in the form of a project on the job or the opportunity to contribute to the community. "'Career,'" adds Ms. Callaway, 'includes a sense of contribution, purpose, and future, whereas 'job' implies a list of tasks to be completed for pay.'

Equally important, says the study, is the opportunity to develop new skills. That might translate to continuing education, undergraduate programs, or the pursuit of a graduate degree. Employers who back employees' educational goals via tuition assistance programs convey support for personal growth, a vital part of the equation. 'Providing specific career development through education assistance and training sends a tangible message to employees,' says Ms. Callaway. 'It conveys 'career.' Such messages stand to carry even more weight in the future as Gen Y enters the workforce, bringing strong beliefs about the value of a meaningful work life. What Moms Choose counsels employers on other work/life essentials, including job flexibility, telecommuting, and career support. In the end, concludes Ms. Callaway, by assisting with growth, everybody wins. 'Communicating support for an employee's career promotes full engagement,' she says, 'and encourages increased contributions in support of the employer's business goals and mission.' 

Educational solutions have given employers like AstraZeneca and Sprint the competitive edge and helped them to thrive. Hear how in our recent webinar, 'The New Learning Curve: How Tuition Assistance and Educational Advising Pay Off for Employers,? and find out what educational solutions can do for your organization.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.