As many business leaders have discovered recently, the old drivers of a secure job and decent pay don’t motivate today’s workforce as much. Every week there seems to be a new article or survey uncovering new differences between younger and older workers.

But it turns out that this attitude shift at work is across the board. All employees now value different benefits and perks at work, regardless of their age, status or position.

The changing workforce

Millennials already make up the majority of the workforce and are increasingly moving into managerial and leadership positions. Soon, they and Generation Z (the cohort that comes after Millennials) will be the ones running the show. Business leaders, therefore, need to realise how these younger workers differ and how to cater to them.

Millennials and Gen Z generally have less financial commitments compared to generations before. They’re not having as many children and few are choosing to have mortgages.

As such, they have much more freedom to move jobs, countries and careers. It is also giving rise to alternative working such as digital nomadism.

Company culture and values matter

Company culture is something that’s intangible, but that has a tangible impact on workplace satisfaction. Glassdoor found that the top predictor of employee satisfaction was the culture and values of an organisation.

Especially amongst Millennials, who feel that company values need to align with their personal ones. 86% of Millennials would take a pay cut to work for a company whose mission aligns with their own.

Employees want to feel that their work is having a meaningful impact and doing some good in the world. Work has moved beyond having a career - to having a calling.

Building a community

Part of this boils down to working with peers that employees can relate to. People are more engaged with work when they’ve built strong relationships at their organisation, especially if they have a best friend there. Having a workplace community hinges on respect, caring about colleagues and recognition.

Google ran a much-publicised and lauded analysis of effective teams back in 2016. It wanted to uncover what made people work well together. It found that it wasn’t the set-up or experience of the team that could predict success. Instead, it was the unspoken rules and relationships within a group.

The study also discovered that the most effective employees were the ones who actively built relationships at Google. They regularly switched dining companions in the staff canteen and reached out to others.

Showing appreciation

Community ties in closely with workplace appreciation, which is something that employees state they value more than any physical benefits package. As Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, explains: “A sense of appreciation is the single most sustainable motivator at work.”

In other words, employees quickly become used to an improved benefits package or higher pay - but public appreciation for a job well done will always stand out. Plus, a further experiment carried out by Adam Grant and Francesca Gino found that people are more likely to offer help again, if someone shows appreciation for their initial assistance.

Yet there’s not enough appreciation going around the workplace. It’s the last place where people regularly feel inclined to say thanks, even though all employees in a Berkeley survey stated that they wanted more appreciation from their co-workers, more often.

Providing consistent feedback

Long gone are the days of the annual appraisal. Whilst this outdated review method may still exist in some organisations, many employees believe that it’s no longer fit for purpose. Instead, they value more frequent, consistent and specific feedback. Receiving regular feedback has been shown to increase employee satisfaction, engagement and performance, plus a sense of psychological safety.

Communicate and collaborate more effectively

In fact, your entire company communication likely needs a refresh. The Google team study discovered that effective communication and conversational turn-taking helped foster a good working environment for its team members.

Then there’s the rise of remote working and the contingent workforce (such as freelancers) leading to new communication and collaboration methods. Instant messaging tools and video conferencing is much more common, for instance.

Managers now spend 50% more time on collaboration compared to before, so communication between employees and management needs to be seamless.

Career development for the future

Younger employees also value more opportunities for career advancement and development. 87% of Millennials want more development at work, especially if it helps them enhance their leadership skills.

The onus is now on organisations to provide training and development for all employees, tailored to their needs and learning styles. This is particularly urgent in industries that will experience a high rate of automation in the future, as many employees will have to shift careers and re-skill.

Do employees value money?

Pay is no longer the main motivator behind employee satisfaction, but it does still play a role. Without competitive and fair pay, employees are less likely to feel pleased with their overall benefits packages and company culture. It ties into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where without the basic needs (enough to pay the bills) met, employees cannot enjoy the perks that come higher up in the hierarchy.

A higher income will make people happier, but only up to about $75,000 (£57,000). Beyond that, other factors such as company culture and work/life balance take over.

Keeping up with employee values

The factors that employees value the most have changed rapidly over the past few years and are likely to evolve again as different generations enter the workplace. Employers can no longer rest assured that a hefty pay packet and generous perks will attract and retain employees.

For now, the focus for employers should be on career development for younger workers, and fostering good communication and strong relationships across the company. This will keep your employees happy for the time being, but those values may soon change - especially as technology like artificial intelligence alters the workplace.

As such, as well as understanding your employees’ values today, you should also keep your eye on tomorrow.


Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash.