What your young employees really want

Education is part of the job photo courtesy flickr user UC Davis College of Engineering

Everyone wants a decent salary. But beyond that, what do employees want most?

The answer varies by age, according to a new survey from OfficeTeam, a staffing company. While middle-aged workers (ages 35-44) valued work/life balance most, those aged 18-34 wanted opportunities to learn and grow. So what's the best way to provide that in times of tight budgets? Robert Hosking, executive director at OfficeTeam, has a few suggestions:

Say "yes" a lot. Build a culture where employees know that if they come to you with an external opportunity (a course, a conference) and a business case -- "Here's something I think would be particularly helpful, here's why, and here's the benefit to the organization," as Hosking puts it -- you'll approve it. When people choose their own training, they feel more invested in it.

Invest in professional associations. Subsidizing employees' dues sends the message that you think professional development is important. So does hosting association events in your office, and makes attendance much easier for your employees. (It also introduces your organization to folks who might want to work for you in the future -- a low-cost and effective recruiting tool).

Create a (smart) mentorship program. "You want to have a program with a little structure in place," Hosking says. At the beginning, be sure to ask what a younger or newer employee is looking for, and select a mentor based on that, "as opposed to matching up someone for the sake of it," says Hosking. Be sure to set up feedback channels, so either party can report if "this isn't going very well," Hosking adds.

These three steps will help a lot. But perhaps the most important -- and simple -- way to help employees learn and grow? "If you've got somebody on your team who you know wants more, give them more," says Hosking.

What development programs work at your organization -- and which do not?

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