Managing Millennials Q&A: What Benefits Do Millennials Really Want?

Note to readers: This is the fifth post in my new series based on questions I frequently hear about managing millennials — those ongoing management challenges that can really make or break workplace relationships.

Each month I’ll tackle a question and provide some advice for managers and millennials (and, of course, millennial managers). I hope the advice I share is helpful for all generations.

Have a question you’ve been dying to ask? Send me an email and I will try to cover it in a future edition!

Here’s a question I often hear from corporate leaders: “What benefits do millennials really want?”

In the past, most of us were quite satisfied with standard benefits like health insurance, a 401(k) plan and the occasional casual Friday.

Today, the benefits game has seriously leveled up. First came free breakfast, then all-day-chef-prepared meals and laundry services. Now, cool companies offer an onsite sandbox or improv classes.

When the Society for Human Resource Management launched its first annual employee benefits survey in 1996, 60 types of benefits were measured. Compare that to its 2016 Research Benefits Report, which covered a whopping 344.

And the perks pressure that companies feel is heightened when you consider that more than half of workers say perks and benefits are among their top considerations when accepting a job offer, according to Glassdoor.

So, which benefits really matter to millennials, the largest cohort in today’s workforce? I think we all know unlimited snacks only go so far. Here are the benefits that truly make the biggest impression and actually improve recruitment and retention.

Training and development

Some of my clients are surprised when I tell them how coveted this is, but 80 percent of millennials rate a workplace focused on personal growth as “highly important.” And a PwC survey found that “opportunities for career progression” was the No. 1 quality millennials looked for in a company, with training and development programs number three. (In the middle was money — for more on that, see below…)

Call it what you want: personal development, professional development, mentoring, coaching, training — just make sure you offer and articulate this benefit to millennial talent.


Money is not the top priority to every millennial, but it’s still incredibly important to most young professionals (and older ones, too, of course). After all, many millennials are struggling with student debt or are just launching their lives and saving for a down payment and a family. In fact, almost 40 percent of millennials report being distracted by finances at work, more than any other generation. Pay has to be competitive, period.


An employee benefits study by Fractl found that four of the top five desired benefits named by respondents included some sort of work/life balance component, such as flexible hours, more/unlimited vacation time and occasional work-from-home options. Because millennials have always had the tools to work remotely, their expectations for flexibility are much higher than those of other generations.


I don’t think anyone can argue with the concept of wellness as an important benefit that pays dividends all around. When your employees are physically, emotionally and financially healthy, they have more energy and focus to do their jobs better. In fact, of the one-third of companies that increased their overall benefits offerings in 2016, nearly half of them beefed up their health and wellness categories. While these offerings benefits all employees, millennials are particularly interested in wellness: 72 percent of millennials say they exercise once a week or more, and 95 percent say they care deeply about their health.

Menu of options

How can you offer millennial-friendly benefits while still serving employees of other generations? My favorite type of benefits are those that offer your employees choices based on their unique circumstances. For example, some companies offer a “life planning account,” for employees to spend on approved expenses that suit their personalized needs, such as a child’s college tuition, home closing costs or a CrossFit membership.

Options also allow you to offer targeted benefits that can engender increased loyalty among those who use them. One company has made headlines for paying for their employees’ weddings, and many companies offer pet insurance benefits for their animal-loving employees. PwC famously started offering student loan assistance, and one study found that nearly half of the workers surveyed would choose student loan repayment assistance over a 401(k) retirement plan match.

“Free” benefits

Maybe you’re reading this and wondering how to apply it to a small business, or any business with a small benefits budget. Even if you can’t offer some of the “fancier” benefits mentioned above, there are many free benefits that employees truly value.

Here are my two favorite low-cost/no-cost benefits:

  • Gratitude: Yes, thank you is still free.
  • Personal gestures: Nothing beats knowing your employees and what small gestures matter to them. Group dinners may sound fun, but not to the employees who have to shell out for a sitter when they’ve just been away from their kids all day. Leaving early on Fridays may seem awesome to you, but someone with a tough commute may prefer to come in later in the morning instead. When you know your employees, you know what gestures would make them feel valued.

My final advice: if you don’t know what benefits, perks or gestures your millennials employees (or any employees) would value, there’s an easy way to find out: Just ask.

I’d love to hear what benefits have been a hit or a miss at your organization. Let us all know below!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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