How to provide perks that ignite engagement and retention

No amount of ping-pong tables and nap pods can compensate for a lack of substantive benefits that make your employees’ lives easier.

Perks that matter to workers

Ping-pong tables, unlimited snacks and beer on tap are the hallmark perks of trendy companies, but do these flashy features bring any bottom-line benefits?

Sure, nap pods are hip, but how effective are they in attracting and retaining top talent?

A 2017 survey found that 86 percent of office workers in the United Kingdom felt that fun perks had no specific value in their working life. Twenty-five percent of respondents found them “annoying.”

If you’re serious about employee engagement, it’s time to leave the games in the dorm room and create a culture that invests in people—not toys. To be a culture-first company, organizations must provide an environment that enables employees to thrive. Work-life balance, flexibility, continuous learning, collaboration and innovation are the new “perks” that win the loyalty of high-value talent.

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Flexibility

LinkedIn’s 2018 study on hiring and retaining top talent reports that strong workplace benefits are a key factor in keeping professionals on board for more than five years. Perks such as PTO, parental leave and work-life balance are essential to avoid burnout and disengagement.

Email, texting and chat platforms have blurred the lines between work and home life, which can be damaging for both the company and its employees.

Workers who take all or most of their vacation time tend to be more productive, so it’s important to create a culture that encourages time away from the office. Preventing burnout will improve retention, reduce sick days and boost productivity.

Offering scheduling flexibility is crucial as well. Treating workers like adults and allowing them to have some autonomy over how and when they work is an excellent way to build trust. Flexibility also reduces the stress of juggling family and career responsibilities. Despite this, just 2 percent of U.S. employers offered “unlimited” vacation in 2017.

Continuous learning and innovation

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency are shaking the bedrock of business. As a result, continuous learning and professional development opportunities are now must-haves. Organizations and employees must invest in training to stay relevant.

A recent report from the United Nations Education Commission revealed that up to half of the world’s jobs are at “high risk” of disappearing in the coming decades, due to automation. It also states that the growing skills gap will stunt economic growth, causing far-reaching social and political repercussions.

Organizations must pony up to provide relevant resources and training programs that teach forward-thinking skills. Employees agree: LinkedIn’s survey found that people prefer that a company offers benefits such learning and development programs rather than providing free food and game rooms.

Employers that provide their staffers with the resources to advance and learn new skills outside their job descriptions will nurture loyalty and foster long-term retention.

Socialization and collaboration

Game rooms and unlimited snacks might not produce substantive long-term ROI, but the concept behind them does. Humans crave social connection and collaboration, and work relationships are important to employee well-being. Social factors can profoundly affect work performance—and employee health.

Organizations should strive to create a collaborative work environment. Encourage and reward teamwork. Involve and recognize remote workers. Invest in technology and platforms that streamline communication.

Don’t neglect the simple things, either. There is still power in the breakroom, for instance. Providing a welcoming space for people to decompress, socialize, celebrate and connect with members of other departments is an easy way to build internal rapport.

Ultimately, employees want benefits and perks that make them feel valued and respected. When workers feel appreciated by their employer, they’re much more likely to become intrinsically motivated and genuinely care about their job. By nurturing an environment where employees care about the company and their fellow workers, organizations stand a much better chance of creating a healthy, productive (and attractive) culture.

Game rooms, snacks and adult beverages might be appealing at first glance, but employees want more meaningful benefits that make their lives easier. Instead of investing in ancillary bells and whistles, craft a culture-first environment that focuses on substantive enrichment. Develop an environment that promotes well-being through professional development, social interaction, mutual trust, collaboration and work-life balance.

When you make a meaningful long-term investment in your employees, they will make a meaningful long-term investment in you.

A version of this post first appeared on TLNT.

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