It wasn't long ago that a fresh pot of coffee was the biggest freebie you could expect at the office. For many working in technology today, fully stocked bars (sometimes with a higher quality selection than the local watering hole), catered lunches, and the occasional team surfing off-site might come to mind more immediately.
In startups and stalwarts alike, these generous, borderline lavish perks have increasingly become the norm, not the exception. While millennials have changed the dialogue about what people want from work, we've reached a state where mild-to-moderate pampering is expected to be a standard part of employment.
This is compounded by the fact that it's been a very long time since technology experienced a major industry down cycle (and the belt tightening that ensues).
Given expectation always breeds disappointment, how can employees stay motivated and engaged if the perks start to diminish in scale, or go away entirely? With a few organizational tweaks, employers can incentivize employees for all the right reasons.
Rally the Troops
The best employees are excited by their work, which makes a mission worth fighting for a potent rallying cry. After all, if your mission is not interesting enough to entice people without the addition of snacks to the bargain, is it really something worth striving for?
Activate employees by transforming that mission into a purpose everyone can internalize and have a vested interest in pursuing. Believing that a company is tackling and solving a real problem can be a very powerful motivator.
Create Infrastructure That Enables Employee Growth
Millennials now make up the largest portion of the American workforce (a percentage that is significantly higher in many newer technology companies). This cohort is more hungry for feedback and a clear path of advancement than any other generation.
One way to feed that hunger is to establish a mentorship program in which junior employees are matched with senior management. Encourage regular weekly meetings that serve as a nurturing environment for employees to ask for critique, receive praises, and air grievances. Task leads with the responsibility of their mentee's professional growth - from outlining goals to delivering reviews.
Employees will feel more strongly connected to the company if they know someone with skin in the game helping them propel forward, while leads gain a much stronger pulse on the general sentiment within the organization.
Give More Shout-Outs
Multiple round happy hours or expensive dinners aren't the only way to celebrate success. If a team launches a long-awaited project or an individual went above and beyond the call of duty, a simple company-wide email or handwritten note can be just as impactful.
Try dedicating the end of every all-hands meeting to give employees an opportunity to publicly recognize someone else's work. While it may sound simple, the positive impact on a person's feeling of self worth and value to the company is priceless.
Rethink Team Structure
A recent Deloitte survey found that 63% of millennials believe their leadership skills are not being fully developed, making them much more inclined to switch jobs.
Buck the trend by creating a structure for new initiatives that gives those who may not be at the managerial level the chance to lead and take ownership of projects. It demonstrates a willingness to invest in your employees' talent, while increasing their morale and commitment.
While you're at it, get rid of closed door meetings. Nothing creates a feeling of seclusion - or fuels the gossip mill - like seeing the same group of people whisper behind glass conference room walls. If it's not strictly confidential, talk out in the open.
Turn Perks Into a Motivator
Clear communication is essential to fostering a team that works hard together. This extends to if your company finds itself in the financial position where scaling back perks becomes necessary. Consider sharing the cost of providing free lunch or subsidized gym memberships so that it becomes tangible figure to employees. 9 out of 10 will be surprised by how high the number is, guaranteed.
As a team, discuss how you can accomplish milestones in order to bring perks back (financial or otherwise). Miss that monthly team building offsite? Here are the sales figures we need to hit in order to justify reinstating it. Instill the message that if you want it, you have to work for it. By doing so, you'll inadvertently learn very quickly who truly believes in what the company is striving to accomplish, and who is quite literally in it for the free lunch.
When implemented successfully, laundry services, free lunch, and the like do exactly what they're intended to do: eliminate road blocks, boost productivity, and foster a stronger sense of internal community. What has been lost in translation is the true purpose of why they're provided.
All companies, not just those in technology, owe it to their employees to ensure they don't lose sight of what's important in the workplace. Organizations that do will find themselves in a much better position if the going gets rough.