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Tech workers are quitting. Pool tables and perks won't be enough to stop them

Benefits are more important than ever when it comes to attracting new hires. Unfortunately, some employers aren't moving with the times.
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Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor on
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Employees prioritize their own wellbeing over a game of pool with the boss. Who'd have thought?

Image: ablokhin/ GETTY

As hiring becomes more difficult, businesses are having to put more thought into the benefits they can offer prospective employees. It's no longer about salary alone: new expectations centred around flexible working and the employee experience means organizations will need to be more thoughtful than ever they hope to find the staff they need.

Plush offices are also less likely to have the same magnetic appeal as they once might have, particularly if employees are perfectly capable of doing the job they are paid to do from home. A round of pool at lunchtime and free beer on a Friday might have brought a spark of fun to an otherwise dull day, but are employees willing to wake up extra early and suffer rush-hour traffic for it? Probably not.

Don't just take my word for it, though: According to a survey of 576 employees by workplace management platform Robin, superficial perks like ping pong tables and free cold brew still have their appeal in the new hybrid workplace, but they're no longer as valuable to workers as there once were. Instead, employees expect businesses to support both their chosen working style and their physical and mental wellbeing – whether that's more time off, health and wellness perks, or financial stipends for things like broadband and home-working equipment.

SEE: Tech workers are preparing to quit. Persuading them to stay won't be easy

Snacks and social gatherings are also out. Prior to 2019, said Robin, these were among the top three most common workplace perks, along with work from home days. Fast forward to 2022 and working from home feels less a privilege and more a practical means of freeing oneself from workplace distractions, saving money and staying rid of any nasty illnesses that offices incubate.

Given the very clear and concerted change in employees' expectations of work, how are businesses reacting? Unfortunately – though perhaps not surprisingly – many are burying their heads in the sand. Not only are some companies spending inordinate amounts of cash on new offices in an attempt to lure employees back to their desks, but many are resisting doing the things that they know will help keep them competitive amid a huge shake-up to the workforce.

Skilled workers are quitting their jobs for better offers. Employers know that. They also know that the number of tech vacancies greatly outstrips the number of available candidates. And they know that employees want more flexibility in how they work and for their bosses to care about their wellbeing. So why does it feel as though so many businesses are simply waiting for employees to change their minds and decide that, actually, they do want to work from an office for eights hours a day, five days a week after all?

Robin's survey found that 65% of employees said their employer hadn't created any new perks since the onset of the pandemic. At the same time, 23% of respondents said their company's perks had been wiped out. Truly, the worst of both worlds.

SEE: The IT skills gap is getting worse. Here are 10 ways you can avoid a crisis

You'd be forgiven for thinking that employers simply aren't listening. Take last year's Future Forum Pulse Survey by Slack, for example. It found that 75% of company executives want to work from an office 3-5 days a week, compared to just 34% of employees. Meanwhile, 66% of executives are designing post-pandemic workforce plans with little to no direct input from employees. That hardly sounds like having your finger on the pulse.

Equally infuriating are findings from NTT Data and research group Oxford Economics in November. In a survey of more than 1,000 IT and businesses leaders, only 16% said employee retention and engagement was a priority to them. Not only that, but just 21% of executives rated flexible-working options as a top contributor to employee satisfaction. The disconnect is baffling when you consider that organizations are acutely aware of the difficulties they will face hiring skilled workers in 2022 and beyond - unless action is taken.

Change is hard. We all get that. Trying to strategize and implement a complete rethinking of how your workforce operates is no easy task. The ripples of the pandemic are still being felt, and more cautious organizations are likely waiting for them to settle before making any big decisions. The problem is: time is not on their side. Employees' attitudes have already changed. The workforce is already on the move. Recruiters are knocking down developers' doors and offering them pretty much everything in exchange for a few lines of code. The new normal has begun. 

Companies that are slow to prioritize employees' needs risk falling behind –  and probably already have. Rethinking perks and the wider employee experience will require more creative thinking than ping pong and pool tables. But the potential payoff for businesses and their employees is far too valuable to ignore.

ZDNET'S MONDAY MORNING OPENER  

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech, written by members of our editorial team. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US, 10:00PM GMT in London.

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