Over the past decade, "culture" has been a buzzword -- so much so that the meaning of the word has been diluted. Culture is the driving force of the employee experience; it's how we communicate and get work done. Employees aren't just attracted to work that's interesting or lucrative -- they're also drawn to companies that provide excellent environments.

Enhancing the employee experience is about so much more than what you pay your employees. In fact, if we want to talk dollars and cents, the cost of losing employees is a much bigger deal. The Society for Human Resource Management found the cost of employee turnover to be "astronomical," with some companies paying as much as $240,000 to find, hire and develop a new employee.

Having worked with dozens of my own employees, as well as consulted with high-growth companies managing dozens of openings at once, I've determined there are four things you can give employees to improve their experience.

Benefits

Several of you just sank down, but I'm not talking about traditional benefits like health insurance or retirement accounts. Think about what kinds of experiences or recognition would matter most to your team. For some, unlimited PTO is a huge factor in feeling appreciated; for others, it's weekly lunches.

For those who aspire to leadership or want to see the world, paid travel can be a draw. I spoke to Ben Wright, the CEO of Velocity Global, a firm focused on business growth and expansion. The brand has a very unique benefit that's sparked tremendous praise. On an employee's first work anniversary, he can pick any location where he has a client and travel there on the company's dime: Flights, lodging, and a night out with the client are all paid for.

"Our outreach program was set up for one reason: to foster a deeper human connection between us and the employees we support across the globe," Wright said. "For the employees we support, they get to know us, and it demonstrates we clearly go the extra mile for them."

Growth

People love to be challenged to grow. They want to grow in their skills, earn certifications, and nab honors they can add to their résumé. But the key isn't what you want them to learn -- it's about what they want to learn. They want marketable skills that will enhance the value they add to their future and current work.

Don't worry about making people "marketable." If you're creating a positive environment and giving them opportunities, that shouldn't be a concern. If you're not growing them, you're not growing your company, either -- competitors will either bypass you in the market or steal your employees.

One company I worked with implemented a mentoring program: The mentors would feel valued for their expertise and gain training experience. The mentees would gain skills they could use. They were matched up via application, where they noted the skills they could teach or wanted to learn. The outcome? The company experienced increased productivity over the next year and lost half as many employees as it had the year prior.

Opportunity

Growth often leads to opportunity. People who've developed various skill sets want to experience different roles and work on different projects. They want increased visibility and more chances to make an impact. And yes, sometimes that means they want promotions.

High-growth companies have a significant advantage here because they create more opportunities for both vertical and lateral movement. As the business expands, employees who have stuck with it and developed their skill sets see more higher-level roles.

VMware, a tech brand, has grown significantly over its two decades in business. Now, with nearly 20,000 employees, the company continues to reward employees who take risks and push the envelope -- and their own skills. "If a person has the skills and interest to move up in their career, VMware makes it very easy to do," said Mike Valley, a systems engineer who's spent a decade with the firm.

Flexibility: Thanks to email, IMs, and videoconferencing, remote work has never been easier. Some still resist it, and that's dangerous in an era when employees are motivated to work where, when and how they want to.

SHRM's 2018 Employee Benefits report found that nearly a third of companies had increased their flexible work benefits over the past year. Seventy percent of employers offer some type of remote work, and Millennials and Gen Zers are vocal in their preference for this kind of environment. Establish work-from-home days, flexible hours or work-while-traveling policies to make people feel heard and appreciated.

The employee experience isn't a static thing; it's more than a number on a paycheck. By acknowledging how your teammates grow, change and expand, you can find lots of ways to improve the experience they have at your company. Do it well, and they'll hesitate to leave.

Published on: Feb 21, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.