A new sense of ambition: Workers voice interest in work-life balance, belonging over climbing the corporate ladder

Although 56% of workers worldwide consider themselves to be ambitious, 47% say they’re not focused on progression or climbing the ladder at their jobs, according to Randstad’s Jan. 17 Workmonitor report

A new sense of “ambition” is emerging, the report authors noted, which emphasizes work-life balance, flexibility, equity, belonging and upskilling at the heart of workers’ career decisions.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, as workers’ ambitions, motivations and priorities are becoming more fragmented and personalized,” Sander van ’t Noordende, CEO of Randstad, said in a statement.

“It’s crucial that employers communicate regularly with talent about their wants and needs, whether that be flexible work, career aspirations or learning and development opportunities,” he said. “Embodying a talent-first mindset and truly understanding their personal motivations and priorities will help set businesses apart.”

In a survey of 27,000 workers worldwide, 47% said they’re willing to stay in a role they like, even if there’s no room to progress or develop. In addition, 34% said they never want to take on a managerial role.

Instead, workers are more likely to value work-life balance (93%), schedule flexibility (81%) and mental health support (83%) over career ambition (70%).

In addition, 72% of employees noted the importance of training and development opportunities. Nearly a third said they’d quit a job if they weren’t offered opportunities to “future-proof” their skills, such as training around AI.

Workers also want a more equitable workplace where they feel they belong, according to the report. About half of workers said employers should bear the responsibility for improving equity in the workplace, and 45% said employers are liable for enhancing workplace culture.

However, despite these expectations, workers don’t appear to feel as confident about leaving if their priorities aren’t met, the report indicated. For instance, in 2023, 54% of workers said they’d quit a job if they felt they didn’t belong, which dropped to 37% for the most recent report. This shift could be driven by increased concern about layoffs, with 45% saying they’re worried about losing their job this year, as compared with 37% in 2023.

Employee experience programs may face significant cutbacks and budget restrictions in 2024, according to a Forrester report. The advisory firm, which previously anticipated declines in employee engagement and “culture energy” in 2023, predicted an “upcoming EX recession” will affect diversity, equity and inclusion programs in particular.

HR leaders also report waning optimism around engagement and retention, according to a report from The Conference Board. In response, most said their main human capital management priorities for 2024 are focused on employee experience, organizational culture and leadership and workforce capabilities. 

Even as retention and labor market concerns proliferate, hiring intentions remain stable for 2024, according to a Robert Half report. More than half of managers said they plan to add new permanent positions during the first half of the year, and nearly 40% said they plan to hire for vacant positions.