As companies cater to the millennial desire for a more inspiring workplace—from extended paid family leave to flexible office hours — new work perks improve work-life balance for everyone.
No one would argue that Lego stations, gourmet cafes and dog-friendly spaces make work a little more fun, but companies are realizing that today’s young workforce cares about more than just free breakfasts and beer. As the American Society of Employers found, gimmicky perks are costly without improving worker engagement.
The conversation around workplace balance and benefits is undergoing a radical shift. As tech companies and startups try to recruit the best and brightest talent, they’re realizing their offerings need to woo a generation unaccustomed and unwilling to settle.
The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 found that 44 percent of millennials would like to leave their current employer in the next two years because “a perceived lack of leadership-skill development and feelings of being overlooked are compounded by larger issues around work-life balance, the desire for flexibility and a conflict of values.”
Millennials will work hard, but not simply for a paycheck, said Ekaterina Walter, bestselling author of Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg, international speaker and global evangelist at Sprinklr.
“Young people understand that hard work is required to get ahead,” Walter said.
In her book, she explained young employees are not willing to work in frigid eight-to-five environments that were so common among their parents and grandparents.
“They want flexibility to live life and accumulate experiences while they are young, and, in return, they will put their best foot forward,” she wrote. “The future of work is not so much about work/life balance, but rather about integrated life.”
“It is about figuring out how to combine work life with your personal life in a way that they complement each other,” Walter said.
From paid sabbaticals to continuing education stipends, companies are providing perks that provide employees meaningful opportunities to grow.
The Future of Work/Life Balance
“A lot of companies are starting to allow employees flexibility, and they are seeing spikes in productivity,” Walter said.
Google has really raised the bar high for fostering an “integrated life.” Fortune named the company the “Best Company to Work For” seven times in the past decade. Along with access to a medical care facility and gym at the Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View, California, employees can get up to $12,000 in tuition reimbursement per year, adoption assistance with up to $5,000 to help with legal fees and emergency backup childcare.
Other companies offer other unique benefits like student debt repayment perks or vacation stipends—all things that workers of all ages can use and enjoy. Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC), for instance, gives its workers $1,200 annually to pay off student-loan debt. Airbnb offers employees $2,000 per year to travel (and stay in an Airbnb) anywhere in the world.
Some of the biggest perks millennials look for, however, continue to be mentorship, recognition and opportunities for advancement. Millennials are also tech savvy and don’t want to be stuck in an outdated workplace. As 28-year-old Elizabeth Plank told The New York Times, she left a nonprofit gig for exactly these reasons.
“We called people on phones and we — I don’t know — we faxed people. And we had to mail things,” she said.
Margaret Davis, a 28-year-old who left her job at a pharmaceutical company because she felt overlooked amid management changes, told Time that getting “lost in the system after four years” prompted a career change.
“I want my strengths to add value,” she said.
Forbes’ Karl Moore, author of “The Modern Mentor in a Millennial Workplace,” wrote that far from being immature and lazy, young people desperately want an advisor, someone who can help guide their careers.
“Millennials acknowledge, albeit not out loud, that they have certain limitations. They are aware that they lack some crucial elements in order to move forward,” he wrote. “They view mentors as meaningful contributors to their personal growth.”
While employees may not have expected stipends and structured leadership programs a decade ago, millennials are helping drive the meaningful changes that ensure all employees have a better work day.
Focus on Family
Although many millennials aren’t parents just yet, paid family leave is important for future moms and dads when they’re deciding where to work. According to a Washington Post article on millennials and work-life balance, nearly 40 percent of millennials are so dissatisfied with paid leave policies in the U.S., they’d be willing to move to another country.
“A figure like that certainly shifts the conversation from paid parental-leave being a ‘nice to have’ to being a ‘need to have’ for companies,” Karyn Twaronite, Ernst & Young’s global-diversity and inclusiveness officer, told the Post.
With nearly 1.4 million new tech jobs needing to be filled by 2020, employers know attracting top millennial talent is a necessity.
“Part of it is the workforce in tech is very competitive,” said Juliet Gorman, director of culture and engagement at Etsy, which offers 26 weeks of fully-paid leave for men and women who become parents through birth or adoption. “There’s more demand and more amazing jobs out there than we can find talent to fill.”
Many large companies are setting a high standard. Netflix reportedly offers a full year’s paid maternity or paternity leave to its employees, while Adobe reportedly gives 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and 16 weeks of paid paternity leave. Microsoft offers 20 weeks of paid leave to new moms and 12 weeks to new dads. Google, Amazon, Intel and countless other tech companies also offer generous time off for new parents.
It certainly helps when the boss sets a good example. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is considered a role model on this front. While his company allows both male and female employees to take four months off during their child’s first year, it was a major milestone that Zuckerberg himself took two months off when his daughter, Max, was born.
“Leading by example shouldn’t just be for executing your projects, but this behavior should also apply to life beyond office,” said Walter. “The fact that Mark Zuckerberg, a Fortune 500 CEO, took two months off for his paternity leave to spend time with his daughter is admirable. The message it sent to other employees is, ‘It’s okay to fully utilize the benefit that the company offers you without feeling guilty.’”
As employees’ children grow up, some companies offer work perks for the kids, too.
Since its inception in 1933, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day gave children a chance to see first-hand what their parents did all day. Today, many companies try to appeal to millennial parents, who are more focused on helping their children develop independence and a self-identity, by involving their children in the workday and encouraging their interest in technology.
For example, Panasonic hosted a semester-long weekend program that taught employees’ children about topics ranging from STEM careers and coding to filmmaking and robotics. Facebook’s version includes a drone club and Lego engineering stations, while Google teaches kids about online safety and exposes them to coding languages such as Scratch.
While there’s no perfect formula for retaining top talent, innovative companies have made significant strides toward creating an encouraging atmosphere — one that fosters professional loyalty through personal growth.
Dina Roth Port contributed to this story.