Retaining Top Talent Takes More Than Treats

It’s become commonplace for companies to pad job offers with perks but it's unclear how effective those perks are in retaining top talent.

In a competitive job market, it’s become commonplace for companies to pad job offers with perks like gym memberships, meditation rooms, and free food — trappings that have little to do with the job at hand but are increasingly seen as necessary to attract and land top talent.

The jury’s still out though on how effective these perks are in retaining that talent.  Creating a comfortable and supportive office culture certainly helps to enhance employee satisfaction and motivation day-to-day. But what about down the road, once the snacks grow stale, or your competitor across the way just did you one better by installing a spa on-site?

Perks can be fickle, and change in-step with the latest trends. The padded extras that are desirable to new hires one year can be old hat by the next. What doesn’t change is the desire to learn and advance. Underwriting that luxury gym membership might help to land the best, but that investment can be undercut if the final offer doesn’t also come with additional opportunities for advancement or development.

Costs of a Short-term Workforce

Long-term training might seem like a risky investment for a new hire or early stage talent, especially for Millennial talent who, as a group, value flexibility over fidelity, and have made “job-hopping” a new norm. (A recent Gallup poll revealed that 21% of Millennials changed jobs within the past year—more than three times the rate of prior generations.)

This can lead companies to shy away from spending resources on the growth and development of their future workforce. Many choose instead to invest in immediate strategies like pipeline recruiting, to have an already-vetted pool of candidates on hand to draw from quickly when vacancies arise.

Those strategies can also involve significant outlays, to acquire resources that might not ever even be used. And, as much as retention may appear to cost (especially from the outset), replacement can cost even more. Apart from time and money spent recruiting and onboarding new employees, there is also a cost associated with losing the old one. That can vary by industry and role, but many measurements place it in the range of tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5-2X the former employee’s annual salary.

On top of the financial loss, there are also “psychic” costs from losing an employee which are often immeasurable. Disrupted team dynamics, gaps in institutional memory, erosion of trust: these can take an emotional toll on co-workers who are left behind and have a negative impact on productivity that can’t easily be captured in a standard balance sheet.

Training to Convert the “Job-Hoppers”

Despite evidence that today’s talent is more prone to hop, statistical trends can’t measure the full arc of a career. Every employee grows up eventually, and as the top end of the generation nears 40,  there is mounting evidence that older Millennials are starting to stay put. The 40s are also an age when employees begin to cash in on the technical and intellectual capital they’ve already accumulated, and those who’ve had access to ongoing training tend to give back more in terms of increased productivity and leadership.

Also bucking the job-hopping trend are studies that show this group does perceive the value of loyalty — as long as it’s returned in kind. After all, Millennials, for the most part, entered the workforce during a time of corporate cutbacks, with the impression that businesses considered their employees an expendable resource. So, all things considering, it’s understandable they evolved into a generation that was hesitant to commit.

But regular training is a sure-fire way for employers to overcome that hesitation—and easily gain some hard-won loyalty in the process. In the recently-published Motivating Millennials, 90% of those polled said they would stick with a job if they knew that steady raises and career advancement were part of the package.  And, sure, not every employee can advance to the C-Suite. But provided with access to opportunities to learn, improve and grow, every employee can still progress.

Of course, it’s not a smart strategy to cover the cost of an MBA for brand new hires, but a business class or two in the first year wouldn’t hurt. There are also plenty of reputable and cost-effective online or onsite education options that, from an investment standpoint, would likely still cost less than that gym membership.

Kate is a Creative Circle candidate, a senior copywriter, and a seasoned corporate communications consultant based in New York. If you want to work with Kate, contact Creative Circle New York.