In 10 years, 70% of the workforce will be millennials (born early 1980s to around 2000).

When I started at the Society six months ago, my supervisor asked me a question I had never been asked in my 12 years in the workforce: “What makes you feel valued at work?”

After being stunned then pleased she would even think to ask, I began listing off things like being able to wear jeans, open-toed shoes, having a flexible schedule, the free Cheez-Its in the breakroom-

Denim & DonutsShe stopped me and said, “No – I mean what makes you feel valued as an employee?”

I was confused because I didn’t and don’t see a distinction: what makes me feel valued at work is being able to do and access what I value. I thought this must be true for most people and that the management team already understood this because INCPAS is one of the Best Places to Work in Indiana and even ranked 8th this year in the Small Business category. Seeing that employee-stamped seal of approval logo on their job posting is actually what prompted me to apply in the first place.

Feeling appreciated by gestures that cost little to nothing goes a long way with people of any generation. Especially when the economy tanked a few years ago and raises, internal advancement or external opportunities weren’t forthcoming – that’s when it seems like companies and their employees started getting creative with benefit plans to help build morale.

Suddenly I heard about friends having soap box derby competitions, beer or wine hours, four-day work weeks, cookouts with door prizes, random ice cream socials, group volunteer outings and being allowed to work from home.

These benefits don’t diminish the importance of salary, insurance and retirement – rather, they add value to a company and absolutely factor in when considering a job offer. Among 20- and 30-somethings, I never hear a dollar figure with someone’s work; I hear about the cool things their companies are or are not doing or offering.

And what I learned from a recruiter panel discussion at our recent Educators Conference is that HR departments in companies of all sizes are scrambling to figure out how best to attract millennials while keeping existing employees happy and incentivized, too.

2014 Best Places to Work in IndianaAny company can start small by adding in some perks in part, full or as incentives. A few of the ones at INCPAS:

  • A staff wall of appreciation (thank-you notes), from which a winner is drawn each month for extra PTO
  • Jeans and/or sandals, unless meeting with members or other key situations (people wearing their phones is more off-putting anyway)
  • ½ day Fridays in the summer
  • Being given the option to go home a little early before a holiday, bad weather or even really nice weather (like the first warm day after a looong cold winter)
  • Bringing in treats randomly (like Long’s Donuts, if you’re in Indy)
  • Working remotely a day or two a week if the situation fits

Something other Best Companies did:

  • Unlimited vacation days (knowing time off can’t actually exceed deadlines and productivity – it relies more on self-policing)
  • Paying 100% insurance premium
  • Wellness programs, incentives and gym memberships
  • Wholesale club memberships

Or you can just ask what makes each of them feel valued so you can better plan, recruit, retain and cultivate your associates so your company and clients or customers will ultimately be better served. For more findings on the next generation of employees, check out these Next Gen Survey Results from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Finally: I know there’s always talk about keeping things “fair” (the same) for everyone, but especially for smaller companies the discussion could be about keeping things “balanced” so not everyone gets everything – they just get what they value or need most. With the inch doesn’t necessarily come a demand for the mile; just the opportunity for a different route.

Have you seen any innovative ideas or trends in the workplace? Is there anything you’ve tried that did or didn’t work?