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Why Office Perks Aren't Enough to Attract and Retain Millennials…

The War for Talent is fierce, and brands of varying sizes find themselves fighting on multiple fronts to remain relevant with the youngest generation of employees.

Millennials are less tied to their employer than previous generations. One Gallup study found that only half of employees born between 1980 and 1996 strongly agree with the statement “I plan to be working at my company one year from now.” That suggests that half of millennials in the workforce are less than committed to their current employer.  

Employees no longer expect to remain with one company for their entire career, nor do they want to. The promise of stability offered by blue chip corporations isn’t worth as much as it once was, especially not when compared to the perceived advantages offered by startups, well-funded tech giants and even freelance work.

Related: Why Office Perks Are Traps, Not Benefits

To attract and retain the most in-demand workers, companies are expanding their arsenal and arming themselves with a host of unconventional perks and benefits, many of which are modelled on the very particular kind of modern worker utopia that’s identified with Silicon Valley. It’s a land where every day is casual Friday, and happy hour starts at whenever. A land of open floor plan offices where employees’ dogs roam free. Of game rooms and gourmet cafeterias, nap pods and unlimited vacation policies.

Young, tech-focused companies routinely occupy the top spots on best places to work lists, so it makes sense that all companies would want to develop their own versions of this workplace culture and put a unique stamp on their own office. But imitation is dangerous. Ask any middle-aged man who’s ever squeezed himself into a pair of skinny jeans.

Organizations working outside of Silicon Valley’s tech community have to undertake more than a superficial makeover. According to Glassdoor’s 2015 Employment Confidence Survey, 60 percent of people report that benefits and perks are a major factor when appraising job offers, and 79 percent say they would prefer additional perks and benefits to a pay raise. But the kind of perk matters. Brands need to truly prioritize employee satisfaction, not just set up a ping-pong table in the breakroom.

Related: Why Perks Don’t Make a Company Culture

If you take a closer look at the factors that people say most impacts their job satisfaction, it’s clear that not all perks are created equal. Attention-getting as they might be, “office perks” only came in seventh in the list of most important perks and benefits, behind less sexy benefits like health insurance, paid time off, retirement plans and performance bonuses. Tuition reimbursement, professional development opportunities, diversity programs and childcare support also made the list, indicating that employees take a pragmatic outlook to their careers.

None of these perks scream “hip.” Employees can separate substance from mere style. Today’s best places to work provide meaningful benefits, not glitzy ones. They prioritize autonomy, provide opportunities for growth and take the notion of work-life balance seriously. Those qualities don’t happen by accident — they require real effort from management.

Take GE as an example. The erstwhile General Electric was founded before some millennials’ great-grandparents were born, but it’s doing a true job of remaining relevant for a new generation. In 2015 the company rolled out its “What’s the Matter With Owen” ad campaign aimed at potential millennial candidates. After its release, GE saw an 800 percent increase in applications and a 66 percent increase in traffic to the career site. GE surprised more than a few people by showing a sense of humor about its somewhat old-fashioned reputation. More importantly, the company highlighted some of the innovative work that goes on behind the scenes there, showing that it recognized the importance millennials place on being part of an organization with a well-defined mission. GE’s new look is more than skin deep: Moving its headquarters from suburban Connecticut to downtown Boston is a sign that the company is willing to adapt to how (and where) young employees want to work.

Related: The Work Perk That Matters More Than Free Food, Gym Equipment or an Open-Office Plan

Adaptive, employee-centric workplace culture can create an ownership mentality among workers of all ages. An important corollary to this is finding the right compensation structures. Performance bonuses and equity options offer more potential upside while fixed salary and benefits offer security. It’s important for all companies to strike a balance that employees feel comfortable with. Similarly, transparency is vital. It’s not always possible to promise employees a defined progression of titles or pay, but employees need to have a sense that they can grow within an organization. Ensuring your employees understand their worth and value can be done through performance reviews, mentoring opportunities, tuition support and additional training. Salary simply isn’t enough anymore. Meaningful perks and a well-defined culture are fundamental for attracting and retaining the best.


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