My friend made it big right out of college. At least she thought so at first. She had joined a global firm in a tough-to-snag sales role. The break rooms on each floor had mini-bars, ping pong tables, and bean bags. Vacation time was generous. And when my friend hit her sales targets, she earned work-sponsored holidays around the country.
But after a year, something didn’t feel right. Although she kept hitting her targets, it felt more like going through the motions. The lack of direction from her leadership team kept her confused about why she was working on certain initiatives. And after some soul searching, she figured out why.
My friend realized that she had confused office perks for company culture — the vision, values, and assumptions that every organization defines for itself. These did not align with what she needed to grow professionally. And although she was a top performer, bean bags and beer were not enough to make her stay.
Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. And as one myself, I read a lot about what we (supposedly) want from our employers. Much of this conversation centers around perks. I understand why, to an extent. Competition for top talent is fierce. It is easy to think that perks can make or break whether a candidate says, “Yes” or a director stays for the long haul.
But as a millennial who works for a rapidly growing company, I’ll tell you what I have observed: great teams know the difference between perks and culture. And uncapped vacation time does not negate the stress of working for a chaotic company.
I am not saying that benefits don’t matter. Health insurance, paid vacation, profit sharing, etc. are strong ways to show your team that they’re taken care of. But too many companies promote irrelevant perks — like free vending machines — to mask a broken culture.
It can cost 400% of an employee’s salary to replace them. That means your focus as a leader should be on inspiring your team to stay for the right reasons.
The good news is that everyone can learn from my friend’s discovery that perks have little lasting value. If you are a manager, here are three things your team would rather have than more free coffee:
Explain the “Why” behind decisions
Millennials are mission-driven. We want to know how our daily tasks align with what our organizations aim to achieve. This is a great opportunity for you as a leader.
You can motivate your team by helping each person understand how they play a unique role in bringing your strategy to life. This makes enormous difference in the long run; it shows a clear connection between what we work on each day and why it matters for the business. And when your team sees the direct impact of their work, they are much more likely to stay.
Throw credit to others
Top achievers expect autonomy. They want to hit the ground running and have a lasting impact at their organizations. So, the easiest way to keep your team motivated is to share praise whenever it is earned. Did someone write a blog post that convinced a prospect to start a software trial? Have an internal communications channel to share the results of that person’s hard work.
It gets your team in the habit of expressing — and receiving — gratitude. Cultures of gratitude are tough to find and even tougher to leave.
The most productive teams work with a shared sense of trust. These team leaders make it a habit to share the metrics that matter most — and how their teams are performing against them. The best companies give us the chance to share what we are working on, how we are achieving it, and why it matters for our organizations. We want a clear exchange of ideas — and help at times so we can see a better way.
Culture starts with having a clear company vision and a shared true north for everyone to work towards. Happy hours are unrelated.
So, before you walk into that next interview, do not use perks to persuade candidates. They are precisely that — bonuses to what should be a cohesive culture. Instead, tell candidates what your company values are — and why your team is the best place for them to thrive.
How are perks used at your company?