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The Great Discontent survey: what do UK workers want now?

This is the introduction to Workable's comprehensive new survey report on the Great Discontent in 2023 in the United Kingdom. Visit here to see the report in full.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

Worker priorities are changing en masse as we speak. What can you do as an employer in the United Kingdom to maintain that bridge over the chasm of discontent?


The past few years have been nothing short of a roller coaster – this much is true. 2020 was just the beginning.

Since then, we’ve dealt with a seemingly endless pandemic, ongoing political and social upheavals nationally and internationally, the departure of the UK from the EU via the much-maligned Brexit movement, and the biggest invasion of a European country since the Second World War.

That’s not all. There’s also the rise of artificial intelligence as a disruptive and assistive tool in day-to-day work for many and, finally, what feels like an externally impending recession charged with layoffs, restructurings, and considerable dissonance.

It’s all a bit much, is it?

And it impacts the workplace over time. If you asked people five years ago what they want in a job, those answers would be just insanely different from what the answers would be today.

In fact, if you asked workers in 2021 what they want in a job – that would still be different from today, even though it’s barely two years later. Such is how much things have changed in a short time.

To save you the trouble of finding out for yourself, we surveyed 500 UK-based workers in 2021 to gather insights. We did it again in 2023 to continue to understand the changing preferences, aspirations, and values of employees over the last two years.

And now, we have results for you – summed up in four key highlights for hiring teams looking to fill positions right away.

What do UK workers want now?

Our Great Discontent 2.0 survey report contains a wealth of data revealing how employee priorities in the UK have changed since 2021. Learn more here.

View the report highlights

1. Clarity and comp are clear

UK workers really want their roles and responsibilities to be clearer – and that’s growing in importance from 2021. Comp is huge, too.

This reflects an increasing need for straightforward job descriptions and clear expectations of roles. But let’s not overlook the obvious elephant in the room – that being compensation.

Amid economic wackiness and global weirdness, a well-defined role serves as an anchor, whilst a generous salary package acts as a powerful magnet. And remember, compensation isn’t just numbers on a payslip; it’s a tangible marker of an employee’s worth, competencies, and contributions to your business.

As an employer, sit up and take note. Structure your comp packages to align not only with industry benchmarks but also cost of living. This is not a nicety; it’s a necessity for retaining your staff in the long term.

2. Flexy isn’t just sexy; it’s normal

While flexible work options surged during the pandemic, it is now balancing out to a new normal – and it’s becoming more of a permanent option for many employers.

It’s ultimately about personal autonomy and bolstered agency – and a rejuvenated work-life equilibrium. These aren’t just buzzwords anymore; they’re now evolving norms in the workplaces of the UK.

Consider this a baseline expectation along with compensation and clarity among UK professionals. It’s now another element of the industrial yardstick that candidates will measure your company by.

3. The benefits of flex have crystallized

Employees love that they get time and money back from not having to commute – and they feel more productive at work too.

What does that mean? It means that with practice and experience, workers now know what’s so great about having that flexible option in the workplace. Two years ago, some of the benefits were clear – but now, they’ve really crystallized.

For one, the elimination of the daily grind to and from work results in palpable savings in both time and money. Workers are also more productive and happier – it’s a win-win for your employees and for your business.

4. Connect at the core

When considering new employment opportunities, company leadership & culture and relationships with colleagues have grown significantly in importance. Gone are the days when job seekers were solely transfixed on roles and compensation.

In the UK worker mindset, it’s now not just a role – it’s a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, a sense of ‘us’.

Evolve your employer value proposition

This is your blueprint – your roadmap – for fostering an internal ecosystem where teams are not just productive but deeply engaged. Adopt it, and you’ll find that you’re not just constructing a workforce; you’re building a robust and resilient community.

Want to learn more? Read the full report for yourself!

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