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Science Industry Employees Say It's the 'Value of the Work' that Really Counts

In this month's Science Matters column, the Kelly Global Workforce Index survey, by global workforce solutions company Kelly Services, reveals that there is a strong desire for jobs that fulfill vital psychological needs of employees—something that is fueling a global shift in workplace dynamics.

by Rich Pennock
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Employees in the global science industry are feeling the twin impact of global economic recession and career frustration, according to a recent international workplace survey.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index survey, by global workforce solutions company Kelly Services, reveals that there is a strong desire for jobs that fulfill vital psychological needs of employees—something that is fueling a global shift in workplace dynamics, driven by distinctive generational and geographic attitudes.

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Many individuals in the middle part of their careers are expressing the desire to change jobs and seek new directions, reflecting a broader workplace trend to reflect on the “value” of the work they perform.

Within the science sector, more than half of global respondents say they are prepared to accept a lower wage or a lesser role if their work contributes to something more important or meaningful. The Kelly Global Workforce Index obtained the views of nearly 100,000 individuals in 31 countries, including more than 3,000 in the science industry across North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region.

Survey findings

Across the global science industry, the main findings of the survey were as follows:

  • 90 percent of respondents say that their work gives them a sense of pride
  • 81 percent say the work they perform raises their self-confidence
  • 60 percent say they plan to look for a new job with another organization within the next year
  • 35 percent say their career goals are not being advanced through their current job
  • 20 percent say that if they could start again they would not choose the same field of work
  • 54 percent say they would accept a lesser role or a lower wage if their work contributed to something more important or meaningful to them or their organizations

The intangible value of work

It is clear that the value of work goes beyond direct financial rewards. Science employees derive a sense of satisfaction and pride that meets deeper psychological needs.

Interestingly, even where they recognize that the job they are doing is not ideal, they still derive a sense of purpose and self-esteem from their work. This would suggest that most employees go about their work with a mind-set that compels them to meet certain standards in order to fulfill their own personal expectations.

Finding the real value in work

One of the central aims of the survey was to explore the notion of the “value” of work—the intangible elements that enable people to derive a day-to-day sense of purpose from what they do for a living.

At one extreme, there are those who take the utilitarian view that we “work to live”; work’s primary purpose is to fulfill the elementary human needs such as food, clothing and shelter. At the other extreme, there are those who believe one’s work, or vocation, should fulfill some higher pursuit.

So where do employees in the science sector sit on this continuum, and does it matter?

It does seem that the majority of people feel that their work has to go beyond the basics; it must enable them to achieve some high-level goals that have real value or purpose.

Respondents were asked whether they would be prepared to give up some of their salary or position if they could do something that was important to them or their organizations.

More than half said that they would be prepared to sacrifice salary or position for more meaningful work.

It seems clear that across the globe, people want their jobs to provide a degree of emotional fulfillment, even if it means sacrificing money and status to achieve it.


The survey demonstrates the value of work in building emotional strength and resilience in individuals. Science employees overwhelmingly say that the work they perform gives them a sense of pride and raises self-confidence.

They also want to perform work that has meaning and relevance to both them and their organizations. A significant number are actually prepared to give up some of their salary and position if they can do something that has real meaning.

Even in the midst of a crushing economic downturn, we still see many people who are actively prepared to quit their current roles and look for more engaging jobs elsewhere. It is also clear that some of the labels that have been attached to the various generations have become entrenched in workplace folklore but do not always hold true.

Rather than Gen Y being the impatient and footloose brigade that we have been led to believe them to be, it is the baby boomers who are signaling their impatience at stalled careers and who are planning large-scale job switching.

The statistics contain lessons for employers—recognize the requirements of people at various stages of their careers and attempt to meet those needs. There is an abundance of information that tells us what employees believe is important to them. They want a workplace with good morale, where they have challenging assignments, receive feedback from their bosses and have the opportunity to learn new skills.

The findings show that the modern employment market is extremely dynamic and that achieving a high-performing, productive and stable workforce means managing a complex set of cultural and geographic influences.