Office perks not enough to keep employees around for the long haul

Cappuccino makers, games rooms and sociable atmospheres improve office atmosphere but empowerment and leadership opportunities truly motivate employees

In recent months there has been a string of global surveys that are putting Canada in a positive light when it comes to happiness and quality of life. The most recent was the World Happiness Report, which ranked Canada seventh based on factors such as life expectancy, social support and freedom of choice.

But what about the workplace? When people talk about happiness there, the true measure is not just about a collegial vibe, comfy collaboration spaces, cappuccino makers or rooms to play. Granted, these can contribute to keeping employees’ spirits up during stressful moments. But a sociable atmosphere doesn’t necessarily mean employees are happy enough to stay around for the long haul.

“Fringe benefits are pretty much the norm these days,” says Jamie Hoobanoff, founder of Toronto’s The Leadership Agency Inc. “But it’s empowering employees that’s really important. What keeps employees happy is a smart company focusing on great leadership that shares insights and provides opportunities to learn from one another.”

In other words, she says, “It’s about treating employees like adults.”

So what does that mean exactly? Gordon Frost, partner and career business leader at Mercer Canada, says that when it comes to employee satisfaction, their workplace studies have shown time and time again that employees value an environment they can bring all of their talents and capabilities to their job and grow and develop new skills.

“Where both of those rank high in employee surveys, 85 per cent expressed the intent to stay with that organization,” Frost says. “Where people felt they were in a job versus a career and did not feel they were in an inclusive and accepting environment, the percentage drops to 15 per cent.”

Even when ranking compensation and benefits, competitive packages are merely table stakes, he says. In many cases a proposed 10 per cent increase in salary might be better spent on intangible elements such as career development.

Better yet are employers that can tailor their value proposition at the individual level, Frost says. “Realistically a large firm can’t have 85,000 value propositions. But they can apply market research practices used to segment groups of consumers and apply them to employee programs. For example, a millennial who is a single professional versus one that is married with a young family would have very different needs.”

When it’s time for discussions around employee engagement and workplace happiness, it’s perfectly fine to invest in happy hour Friday events and recreational activities, he notes. “But keep in mind, what’s more important is opportunities for career development and growth. That’s the really engaging part.”