I recently read a report, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live”, published earlier this year by the Gallup organization[1]. The findings, resulting from extensive research, identified six changes that leaders must make to effectively lead those members of the workforce born in the eighties and early nineties.

While several noteworthy insights are contained in the report, some of which I will address at another time, one finding jumped out at me. It has to do with seemingly frivolous workplace perks provided by companies these days, what Gallup refers to as “bells and whistles.”

I touched on this a few weeks ago in an article entitled “Why Google hands out such lavish perks—It’s not just for the team”. That article cited numerous examples of companies, from Google and Spotify to Clorox and Gap, that realize the value of these perks in providing an environment that fosters creativity and innovation. In other words, there is strategic substance and purpose behind the “bells and whistles.”

The Gallup findings suggest that millennials are actually turned off by such perks. On the surface this may seem contradictory to my view of their importance to forward-thinking companies. However, upon digging deeper, you will find that what millennials are seemingly objecting to is not the perks themselves, but the way they are presented and valued by leadership. When they are provided simply as a means of creating job satisfaction, they will indeed come across as frivolous and condescending. The report emphasizes strongly that millennials want a sense of purpose, mission and a laser-beam focus on personal development. In this context, perks, be they ping pong tables, abundant food or musical instruments, will ring hollow if their reason for being is merely workplace happiness. This is, as pointed out by Gallup, a leadership mistake.

On the other hand, if these perks are an integral part of an overarching purpose-driven strategy of stimulating creativity and innovation, which is also directly related to personal development, it is my contention that they will be embraced.

It is incumbent on leaders to understand the difference. At the end of the day, it’s not the perks themselves that are the issue but, rather, why they exist and how their value is communicated to the workforce.

[1] “How Millennials Want to Work and Live”, Gallup Inc., 2016

For over thirty years, Mike has been actively involved, as a coach, entrepreneur, scientist, business executive and management consultant, in the areas of executive leadership, organizational development and change management, strategic planning and execution, and financial analysis. He has provided strategic, operational and financial leadership to small and medium-sized firms, as well as Fortune 500 companies and large government organizations, in a broad range of industries. Mike holds BS and PhD degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology and has had additional training in finance and accounting, strategic planning and management, leadership development, and succession planning, from various top-tier institutions.

Mike Cobb

Mike has provided strategic, operational and financial leadership to small and medium-sized firms, as well as Fortune 500 companies and large government organizations, in a broad range of industries.

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