Posted 30th October 2019

How often does someone ask you, “What’s important to you?” Very rarely, I imagine. I bet the number of times you pause and ask it to yourself is even less.

But it’s a simple question, and the answer can uncover so much about what we as individuals need to prosper and thrive in life. After all, when we have the things that are important to us, everything just feels right.

The question is just as relevant to ask in a professional context.


What’s important to you at work?

At a recent event, I had the opportunity to ask people this question, and respondents ran the gamut from junior employees to CEOs, Generation Z to Baby Boomers, and crossed sectors and industries. What I found out was extremely revealing.


3 out of 4 people said feeling in control of their career

Taking control of their future and making progress towards their personal goals was the most popular response. People said they look for new experiences and opportunities, seek promotions, and learn new skills to ensure they continue to grow professionally.


More than half said feeling valued

Having a sense of achievement and being recognised for their work was the second most popular response. People saw both self-validation and external recognition as important, and said being treated as an expert, being listened to, and receiving public acknowledgement of their achievements means a lot.


4 in 10 people chose having a sense of purpose

43% of respondents said a genuine desire to do meaningful work that brings value to themselves and others was important.


A third seek flexibility

Flexible working and a good work-life balance was important for 32% of respondents. Those who chose this were clear that they will not compromise on it and are prepared to move jobs to find it.


27% said a good working environment

They want to work collaboratively, enjoy great relationships with colleagues, and have fun.


A quarter of people chose a good relationship with their manager

A supportive line manager, who leads by example and trusts them to make decisions, was important for 23% of people.


1 out of 5 people said company culture

They feel it is important that the company they work for is a good corporate citizen, an ethical employer, and takes diversity and inclusion seriously. They want to work for companies that reflect their own values.


Only 1 in 10 people chose salary and financial rewards

That’s not to say this isn’t important, but clearly there are many other things that mean something to people first.


My observations

  • I noted how people responded to the question. They didn’t pause or hesitate. Their answer was at the front of their mind and they enthusiastically scribbled it down like I had just asked them to write their name.
  • Most people couldn’t stop at one thing. They had to write down two or three things that were important to them.
  • There was no predictability based on stereotypes.
  • People were keen to point out that they were answering about what is important to them today and that “this could change”.
  • Everyone who responded felt that what was important to them was a critical factor in whether they stay where they are or are prepared to look for opportunities elsewhere.
  • What was important to people was much more aligned to softer, personal goals, than it was to hard incentives such as pay and benefits. For the record, no one cited pool tables, cool seating areas or free beer!



We know what’s important to us. We know it because it’s intrinsic to us and we’re very aware of when we are compromising on it. As individuals, we’re the best people to know on what we may be willing to compromise – not our bosses, recruiters or an algorithm.

We’re all complicated creatures and there are often a number of things that are important to us at any one time. Making assumptions about people does them a huge disservice. We must be able to represent and be our authentic selves.

Of course, what is important to us now, may not be what is important to us in the future, and vice versa. It is an ever-changing thing, and it’s vital that you ask people, “What is important to you?” on an ongoing basis.

Whatever it is that is important to someone, whether it’s a feeling like a sense of purpose or a logistical thing such as flexible working, it has just the same impact on their sense of wellbeing and ability to engage and be productive at work.

Salary increases and promotions alone won’t lead to a more motivated and productive workforce. I think it’s time that organisations give their people more credit. They want to achieve, they want to be recognised for doing a great job, they want to feel valued, but they also want to be in control of their own future.

People do their best work when they know they have what is important to them. Knowing what motivates people is the holy grail to unlocking their full potential, but how do companies find it out, and learn when it changes?

Optunli has been designed with these people in mind, and for those businesses that want to build a community of people who are working towards their future and yours. By understanding what’s important to people as individuals and providing them with the career experience they are looking for, you will have naturally engaged and productive employees who want to build their future with you.

Teresa Fox
Post author:Teresa Fox

Teresa Fox is a Co-CEO and Founder of Optunli.

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