Job perks your employees care about

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Companies are increasingly borrowing tactics employed by startups to create happier, more engaging workplaces. For a company struggling with low engagement or high turnover, job perks like on-site games, nap rooms and free food may seem like easy ways to reverse the trend.

Does it work? Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s not that job perks can’t make work more fun—they can. But perks alone aren’t enough to retain employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs overall. The best employee engagement and retention strategies include programs designed to give employees more control over their jobs and careers while ensuring that they feel valued and supported at work.

Here are three “perks” every company should have in place before investing in a ping-pong table:

#1: Personalized career development plans

Helping employees realize their career goals is one of the best ways to ensure that they stick around. Career development is particularly important to Millennials, the fastest growing workplace contingent, who cite opportunities for learning and growth as their top priority when selecting an employer. However, employees of all age groups are far more likely to be loyal if they have a clear vision of their futures within their organizations.

Employee development plans must include more than books and online courses. Employees need to be given opportunities to learn by doing, even if new tasks fall outside their job descriptions. In addition to positioning employees for promotion, lateral moves—or even moves into another business function—should be considered if an employee feels that his or her strengths are not being utilized in a current job role.

Making a real investment in employees’ career development requires a commitment at all leadership levels. Leaders must weave employee development into the fabric of the organizational culture, placing special emphasis on mentoring and support. Managers should consider the development of their employees among their highest priorities, and continual follow-up is essential. Career development plans are meaningless if they’re routinely shelved as workplace demands shift.

#2: Passion projects

Pursuing a passion project at work demonstrates self-motivation, sparks creativity, and provides an extra sense of fulfillment. When companies enable employees to find solutions to the problems they care about, they send a clear message that everyone’s contributions are valuable, and they empower employees to utilize talents that may be untapped in their current job roles.

Passion projects don’t just benefit employees. For proof that they can be beneficial to the company as a whole, look no further than Google. Some of Google’s most successful products began as passion projects, like the search engine’s autocomplete system, Gmail and AdSense.

Passion projects also create a sense of ownership. When employees are given the chance to make real, lasting contributions to an organization, they are more invested in its overall success, which leads to increased productivity, engagement and job performance.

#3: Recognition: the most important job perk?

Recognizing and rewarding employees for their positive contributions is critical to engagement and retention. In its 2013 State of the American Workforce, Gallup issued this reminder:

“Recognition is an important psychological need. Employees who know that they will receive recognition for acting on the brand promise will have a strong incentive to do so.”

The majority of companies’ reward and recognition programs rotate around bonuses and salary increases, but financial rewards are not the only rewards that matter. In fact, too much focus on compensation and cash bonuses breeds competition between peers and can negatively impact morale.

In contrast, 360 degree recognition programs create a sense of community and foster teamwork. Companies should strive to create a culture in which employees can expect to be recognized for exceptional work, both by peers and managers. An employee who feels that his or her contributions are truly appreciated is far more likely to be loyal and to work to his or her full potential.

While companies that offer job perks like on-site massage and “Pizza Fridays” may find it easier to attract employees and keep them working later, organizations that invest in developing, inspiring and rewarding their employees will reap the longer-term benefits of consistently high engagement and low turnover.

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