We’ve gone too far. As hard as it is to believe, as an employer I don’t owe you free snacks, lunch, dinner, dry cleaning, day care, or guaranteed salary increases or bonuses every year. It seems that what used to be unusual, welcome and differentiating perks have turned in to requirements expected of employers.

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recall one client organization I worked with where free lunches at meetings got so out of hand that the catering bill was going through the roof. They simply said “no more.” Amazingly, no one quit. Everyone just started bringing his or her own lunch to the meeting or grabbing a bite afterwards.

Let’s talk about annual pay increase. Doesn’t everyone expect some sort of pay increase every year? Why is this idea so engrained in our U.S. culture? Too many employees think they are “owed” a cost-of-living adjustment. What they are owed is agreed upon market compensation for executing a set of deliverables or job requirements. First, make sure the job is compensated within the market (whatever your market is) range and check this frequently, at least annually. If you can justify that the person you have in the job is worth more than the median market salary for the job, then pay them a higher rate, but let them know you expect their sustained performance to justify the higher rate.

How about this radical idea: on an annual basis, put the burden on the employee to justify why he/she is worth more this year than last year. Ask: what has he/she done to add more value, reduce costs, increase revenues or improve productivity? If they make an excellent data-driven case, then agree on a one-time amount (bonus if you will) to recognize their contribution but don’t raise the base unless the market really demands some sort of adjustment. Let the employee know that each year you will expect them to justify their role and its worth to the business. In other words, set the expectation that sustained high performance is the norm.

So, what “perks” should be offered? I think the things listed below will provide more meaning and value than a dry cleaning service and shift the entitlement mentality to a performance-first mentality:

  1. Honesty and clarity about the business market conditions, the financial health of the business and what the future looks like. Employees want to be treated as “owners”.
  2. A great work environment. I’m not just talking about physical surroundings, but the tools and resources to get things done. Allow some creativity and flexibility in the work approach whether that means working from home, or how the work hours are allocated. And don’t expect people to work 24/7 by sending an email on Saturday morning and counting the minutes to see how long it takes to get a response.
  3. More autonomy or ownership. Push the boundaries on what you think your team is capable of handling. Delegate some authority along with the responsibility for the results. The #1 disengagement factor for millennials (according to Gallup) is that they aren’t given enough responsibility soon enough or allowed to fully use their talents. Let’s put them to the test.
  4. Recurring feedback forums. Project debriefs, self-evaluations, peer evaluations and frequent manager one-on-ones all can be great forums. Let people know where they stand and how they are doing in meeting the job expectations.

As employers, do we need to entice a talented workforce to choose us over the competition? Sure. But what should differentiate employers are the things that really matter. Let’s move away from the entitlement mentality where the office is a playroom and reinstall performance as the basis for recognition, reward and career success. Smart job seekers know to look beyond the superficial perks to understand the deeper cultural roots that will determine whether they will have a great career with your organization.