Workers want a future, not foosball

Would your workers rather have ping-pong or foosball tables at the office?

As it turns out, the answer is neither. A 2017 study found that 86% of office workers feel fun features add no real value to their working life. What employees value more — and what companies should strive to offer — are opportunities for professional development.

When evaluating potential jobs, one of the most important aspects tech employees consider is professional development opportunities. In fact, when employees were asked what they’d want to be doing in five years’ time, 33% said they’d want to have a more specialized, technical role, while just 19% said they’d want to be doing the same job.

To keep employees engaged and help them advance in their careers, you need to look beyond fun features and foosball and make your company culture one of development. Before investing in a ping-pong table, consider the following three ways to invest in employees:

1. Begin with learning and innovation.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are reshaping how employees work today. A recent report from the United Nations Education Commission found that half the world’s jobs could give way to automation over the next several decades.

But tech talent isn’t overly intimidated by automation —  they’re excited by it. More than 40% of developers say increasing automation is one of the most exciting parts of AI. Letting AI focus on more routine tasks means they can devote time to projects that require human ingenuity and new skills.

Employers need to provide resources and training that let employees apply new skill sets to their work. Online learning platforms such as Degreed and Lynda.com offer structured learning pathways that teach employees new skills. Offline activities such as workshops, seminars or even book clubs encourage employees to explore new ideas outside the office.

2. Continue with collaboration.

For tech employees in particular, a sense of collaboration is key. Collaboration helps employees meet common goals and business objectives — and creates a sense of community. A Stack Overflow global survey found that 70% of developers feel a sense of connection with other developers. But it’s important to make sure they feel a sense of connection to the company as well.

One effective way for employers to attract and retain talent is to communicate company plans for future growth. By giving employees a voice and including them in conversations, employees are able to make sure their opinions are heard and valued. In addition, these employees are more likely to care about the business.

3. Follow through with flexibility.

Employees who are learning and working diligently need the opportunity to take time off. This allows them to recharge and come back ready to tackle new projects.

Employees can’t deliver quality work when they’re burned out, nor are they in the best position to learn new skills. Longer hours spent burning the midnight oil doesn’t always equate to better work. A LinkedIn report revealed that one of the best ways to retain employees is to offer strong benefits such as paid time off (PTO), parental leave and a strong work/life balance.

Currently, only 1% to 2% of U.S. employers offer unlimited vacation, but more should take the opportunity to explore it. Providing employees with unlimited vacation shows them you have confidence in their ability to get their work done and allows them to take the time they need to rest, play and recharge.

Companies can put ping-pong tables, snacks and beer in the break room, but employees want a sense of fulfillment, a chance to develop their skills and, ultimately, a company that cares about them and will support them throughout their career.

A ping-pong table is great. But having engaged employees who are there to play it? That’s even more valuable.

Christine Mellon is senior vice president and chief human resources officer at CSG, a global leader in providing business support solutions.

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