From ball pits to free beers, fun job perks have received plenty of press attention over the last few years. For millennials, such benefits should surely be appealing — they are, after all, the generation these perks were ostensibly designed for.
But according to a new study, young people themselves have a different priority in the workplace — respect. Writing in the International Journal of Business Communication, a team led by Danielle LaGree from Kansas State University finds that being valued and respected by managers was the key factor in employees’ ability to positively adapt to the workplace. And, in turn, this impacted how loyal workers were to their employers, how much they engaged in their work, and how happy they felt overall.
Participants were 1,036 adults aged 21 to 34, all of whom were in full time employment. First, participants answered questions about “respectful engagement” at their workplaces — the extent to which colleagues express appreciation and respect for each other’s work, emphasise each other’s good qualities, and speak to each other in a respectful way. Next, they completed a measure of how they felt they were judged by bosses or supervisors, indicating how much they agreed with statements like “my boss values what I contribute to work” and “my boss appreciates my unique contributions to the job”.
Occupational resilience was measured next, with participants agreeing or disagreeing with statements related to the way they handle setbacks at work, as well as how satisfied they felt at work in general. Participants also indicated how much they wanted to remain at their current company in the future, and how engaged they were at work, responding to statements including “I strive as hard as I can to complete my job”, “I feel positive about my job” and “I pay a lot of attention to my job”.
Those who felt they were respected and valued both by colleagues and by bosses were more likely to experience occupational resilience — that is, they were more able to deal with the challenges of the workplace. In turn, greater occupational resilience led these people to say they were more likely to want to stay employed at their company, and more willing to engage with their roles.
There was no difference by gender or ethnicity of participants, though there were different outcomes based on field: those working in computing reported significantly more respectful engagement at work than those working in retail, healthcare, education or sales.
Together, the results show that having supportive colleagues and supervisors can increase employees’ job satisfaction and engagement, and make them more likely to retain their position — and it seems that this is because a supportive environment creates employees who are able to deal with the trials and tribulations of the workplace. The team suggests that these findings could be a useful tool — training bosses in particular how to communicate respectfully, for example, could make for happier, more satisfied workplaces with employees who are unlikely to seek new work.
Looking explicitly at other perks and benefits could provide additional insight. To what degree do perks mitigate disrespectful workplaces, if at all? Overall, however, the results suggest that workplace happiness is mostly dependent on fundamental principles of respect and appreciation. They, more than free beers or ball pits, are likely to define employees’ experiences.