group of millennials sitting at coffee shop
The millennial mindset behind employee benefits emphasizes recognition and work-life balance. — Getty Images/fizkes

Millennials may have an undeserved bad rap over the years, but one thing is true: This group has unique preferences when it comes to employment benefits.

While leadership expert Simon Sinek blames the bad rap on failed parenting in this celebrated (and condemned) video, he also says it’s the employers’ responsibility to adapt to the mindset of millennials—the labor force’s largest generation aged 23-38.

“The talk is that millennials don’t work as hard, that they are entitled,” said Ally Van Deuren, university relations lead, North America, at Korn Ferry, the Los Angeles-based executive search and management consulting firm. “It’s not that they work less hard,” she told CO—,“but that they fully expect to be rewarded for their work.”

Rewards need not be monetary to be viewed as high value by this generation and a carefully curated benefits package can attract talent and improve retention.

Among the top-ranking perks and incentives for millennials, who represent more than one third of the U.S. workforce, are:

  • Recognition: Millennials rank “making an impact” at work most important, well above income, and yet they are starved for feedback on their contributions. Mentoring, peer recognition programs and Lunch & Learns, where they can share their knowledge with co-workers, are meaningful–and low-cost.
  • Wellness: Encouraging healthy personal choices need not be pricey. Discounts on fitness classes, personal tracking devices and gym memberships are rated highly, as is access to nutritionists and other health care professionals via “telemedicine” using HIPAA-compliant video conferencing tools to connect doctors with patients.
  • Work-life integration:Unlike older generations who favor work-life “balance” that permits them to unplug from work completely, millennials welcome the blending of work and play such as intramural sports, happy hours and other social activities with co-workers and they view such programs as perks of employment.
  • Student loan assistance: Not widely offered but companies are exploring ways to ease the burden of millennial employees saddled with education debt.

It's not that [millennials] work less hard, but that they expect to be rewarded for their work.

Ally Van Deuren, university relations lead, North America at Korn Ferry

Median tenure among millennial employees is 2.8 years, far shorter than the 4.2-year tenure across all age groups, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “When they leave,” said Van Deuren, “it’s because they don’t see that path for advancement they are desiring.” With recognition and opportunities for professional development as incentives, millennials are more inclined to remain with their employers.

“People like to be recognized – but be ‘custom’ about it,” said Beth Thomas, CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based consultancy Change 4 Growth, and author of “Powered to be Happy.” Her company’s “Change Agent of the Month” award is one way to provide positive reinforcement; another is Mod Squad, a cadre of younger workers deployed to networking events to attract new talent. “They like to go,” she said. “Sometimes it’s fancy dinners. They get to represent the company and they feel like part of the leadership team—I want them to be part of leadership. Everyone has the capability of moving our business forward.”

Such low- and no-cost programs benefit the employer, too, said Andy Romeo, principal consultant at AFR Organizational Consulting, the New York firm he founded after a career leading human resources and talent development at Diane von Furstenberg, Juicy Couture and Polo Ralph Lauren, among other fashion brands.

Positive reinforcement in the workplace spills over into digital, Romeo said: “This generation uses social media to share their interests and passions, ushering in the age of employee as organic brand ambassador” to enhance the profile of their company, he told CO—. “Perks and experiences are great opportunities for clicks and marketing impressions of the company as employer of choice.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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