Yoga, ping-pong tables? Snazzy perks distract from what young employees really want

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Companies have implemented office perks like gyms, yoga studios and video game arcades to attract young workers. Yet research suggests young employees just want what all employees desire — respect.

Researchers at Manhattan-based Kansas State University and Columbia-based University of Missouri's Novak Leadership Institute surveyed more than 1,000 employees between the ages of 21 and 34 about their current workplace, according to a July 28 Fast Company report.

Respondents ranked their workplace for things such as how employee perks were used to retain workers, how much they felt they were respected, how engaged they were and how easily they could bounce back from setbacks.

Instead of investing in fancy perks, it may be more useful to invest in training managers to communicate respectfully and nurture employee well-being, the research found.

Danielle LaGree, PhD,  assistant professor of strategic communication at Kansas State and lead study author, said past research has found that there are two types of respect that employees experience. There is respectful engagement, which refers to being a valued member of the team and autonomous respect, and there is autonomous respect, which refers to feeling respect beyond their position at work. 

The survey found young employees want both kinds of respect, but autonomous respect is more meaningful.

Dr. LaGree said most managers are not properly trained to be leaders. Leaders should also take the time to get to know their employees, including their life outside of work.

"We need to respond to these young workers' need for meaningful work, contributing not just to the bottom line of the organization, but also its purpose," she said.

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