Push and pull factors for executive leaders image

Executive leaders are more likely to be looking for new jobs than their colleagues in more junior roles, according to recent research from Page Executive. We discovered that 54% of CEOs and 42% of MDs are taking steps to leave their current roles, compared to just 26% of all UK office workers.

Whether you hope to improve retention of star performers or attract more top executive talent, it pays to understand the factors most likely to “pull” executives toward a new role or “push” them away from their existing employer.

4 common push factors

1. Incompatible culture

One-quarter (26%) of all UK employees are dissatisfied with their current job because they dislike the company culture, according to research from Ipsos.

While our own survey discovered that executive leaders are less inclined than the average worker to be unhappy with their company culture, employers cannot afford to be complacent. When executives feel incompatible with, or disconnected from, the organisational culture, they are more likely to be disengaged and frustrated in their roles.

Not only does this increase the chances of them seeking new employment, but it also has an even more damaging effect on your wider retention goals. Indeed, research from Kincentric found that the average disengaged leader has nearly twice as many disengaged employees beneath them.

2. Non-competitive salary

At Page Executive, we see time and time again that an uncompetitive basic salary is the one of the biggest push factors for executive leaders.

This is not to say that executives are constantly looking for more money. In fact, just 7% of executive-level leaders (chairmen, chief executives, managing directors, and other board level managers/directors) are dissatisfied with their current salary, according to our latest survey on job satisfaction among UK office workers.

However, there is still cause for concern. Executives understand their worth and how their remuneration compares to that of their peers. 

Often, they are less than satisfied with what they see. Our research found that two-thirds (66%) of executives agree with the statement: “I know the average salary benchmark for my specific role in my industry and it’s more than I’m paid.”

3. Insufficient flexible working allowances

Executive leaders are often portrayed as the driving force between encouraging employees back to the office. But there are two sides to the coin, because our research also found that executives are extremely passionate about remote and hybrid working.

Three-quarters (75%) of CEOs and two-thirds (70%) of MDs we surveyed said they currently work remotely, vs. 55% of all UK office workers. Of executives who work remotely, 85% are positive about remote work, while 44% feel “very positive”. Not only that, but chief executives named flexible working as the biggest factor in their current job satisfaction.

The message here is clear: if executives are unhappy with their access to flexible working, they are more likely to leave.

4. Lack of challenge

Executives are rarely happy to watch the clock and pick up a salary. To feel engaged and motivated, they need to feel stimulated in their role. Many of the candidates we talk to name lack of challenge as their biggest push factor when it comes to leaving a role.

Mark Lawson Headshot

Mark Lawson-Jones, Partner at Page Executive, commented: 

"There are a couple of particularly common reasons we hear that board members and directors have reached the end of their journey with their current business. One is that there has been a change in strategy, for example, from ambitious growth towards maintaining business as usual. The other is that the individual has achieved the major objectives of their role and needs a fresh set of challenges."

4 common pull factors

1. Better salary and benefits

Our survey found that three-quarters (77%) of UK executive leaders feel satisfied about the non-salary benefits they receive, while a similar proportion (78%) are satisfied with their current remuneration. However, executives are only human. If a new opportunity with higher pay and more attractive benefits comes along, there is a good chance they will take it. 

2. A new challenge

We have already noted how a lack of challenge is a key push factor for executive leaders. The desire for a new challenge is also a key pull factor, in our experience even more so than the prospect of a pay rise.

This is due to the leadership traits and skills of senior leaders. While pay is important, execs are often more motivated by the prospect of building and leaving a legacy. As such, presenting the accountability, ownership and autonomy of a new challenge can be a highly effective way to attract top executive talent.

3. Hybrid working

The desire to strike a healthier work-life balance appears to have grown in importance among executive leaders.

In our 2019 candidate sentiment survey, executives cited “work-life balance” as their fifth-biggest pull factor, cited by just 3% of respondents. Yet our latest research shows that almost two-fifths (38%) of executive leaders now believe flexible working is their most important employee benefit.

As we have already mentioned, the majority of executives are already taking advantage of remote and hybrid working. However, there is clearly an opportunity to attract executives by offering greater flexibility than their current role, allowing them to spend more time at home or less time travelling. 

Likewise, do not be surprised if an executive turns down your job offer because your flexible working policies are not tailored to their own needs.

4. A company that prioritises sustainability/D&I

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way we feel about work. Research from Gartner found that since the pandemic, 52% of employees have questioned the purpose of their day-to-day job, while 56% want to make a greater contribution to society.

It therefore stands to reason that executives want to work for organisations that share their sentiments on key issues like sustainability and diversity and inclusion. 

Among executive candidates, we are seeing a rising level of interest in diverse, inclusive, and responsible organisations. If a company doesn’t currently fit these criteria, the candidate will want to know what the organisation's plans are to move in this direction, and how they personally can fit into this trajectory. Forward-thinking organisations see this as a point of difference, and a method of attracting and retaining high calibre talent. 

What’s next?

With so many executives actively searching for new roles, boards must take steps to retain their best talent. That means keeping them engaged, rewarding their efforts through benefits and pay rises, allowing them to work flexibly, and striving to build a more ethical, sustainable organisation.

Even if you take those steps, you can never retain everyone, so you should also build robust succession plans. To do that, you must have a clear understanding of the talent market.

Want to attract the best executive talent to your organisation? Read our guide to searching for your next executive team member.

Ready to start your executive search? Get in touch with Page Executive today.

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