Benefits planning and administration would be a whole lot easier if only everyone valued the same things. If only. But in reality, employers are challenged to craft benefit programs that can appeal to as many as five distinct generations in the workforce — the majority comprised of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, who are bookended by the late-retiring Silent Generation and most recent entrants, Gen Z.
Those generational segments have varying expectations on what a benefits program should entail, expectations shaped by their own experiences, cultural phenomena and where they are in their lives. Furthermore, employees are looking to individualize their benefits options to best suit their particular needs. When you consider that, according to Glassdoor, nearly two-thirds of job applicants focus on benefits almost as much as salary, the stakes for getting it right are climbing as the competition for talent continues.
To create a benefits program with multigenerational appeal, employers should first understand employees’ shared concerns and distinct needs. Then employers can determine how best to tailor the benefit offerings in a way that aligns with those needs.
Common Concerns, Distinct Needs
Not surprisingly, employees across all generations share some common concerns, but what drives those concerns are as distinct as the generations themselves.
For example, employees consistently cite serious concerns about their financial wellness. According to PWC, more than half (53%) of employees are worried about their current financial well-being, and 47% say their stress level related to those financial issues has increased over the last year.
But what’s behind those financial concerns often varies with the employee’s life stage. Unprecedented levels of student debt make that a primary concern for Millennials and Gen Z. Gen-Xers share concerns about managing debt as well as paying for their children’s education. Fear of not saving enough for retirement, while an issue across all age groups, is most pressing for the oldest segments of the employee population for which retirement is imminent.
Having insurance provides added peace of mind when it comes to handling the unexpected. Health, dental, vision and life insurance are all valued traditional benefits, particularly for Baby Boomers. An ARAG study found that Millennials also prioritize medical benefits over everything else, followed closely by dental benefits, but they are more cost-conscious than other generations.
While every generation faces some legal risk and uncertainty at different stages of their lives, the ARAG study found Millennials are more likely to purchase legal insurance (41%) compared to other generations (30% all other). Why is legal insurance so appealing to Millennials? They don’t like risk; they know “anything can happen” and they’re willing to pay for peace of mind. Millennials also want to be financially stable — it’s their highest aspiration, even above finding their dream job — and they know the potentially high cost of legal advice and representation could threaten the financial independence they yearn for.
Gen X prioritizes benefits that support better work-life balance, such as flex time, child care, financial protection and education, and well-being support. Gen Z meanwhile favors those benefits that support career growth and development, perks that relate directly to job security, a key concern among this cohort.
No One-Size Approach
Employees are more diverse than ever — and they look for their benefits experiences to reflect that. According to HR Blindspot Report 2018, the vast majority — 91% of employees — feel companies should offer personalized benefits packages. Delivering a customizable benefits scheme that can accommodate an individual’s interests and life goals is instrumental in helping employees feel heard and valued.
Looking beyond the core offerings like health care, retirement savings plans and a range of medical benefits, employers can offer a comprehensive menu of non-medical voluntary benefits that make it easy for employees to select options suited to their individual needs. Those might include legal insurance, tuition reimbursement, on-site child care, student debt assistance, caregiver leave, ID theft prevention services and pet insurance.
Innovative companies understand that offering benefit programs that speak to their employees can set them apart from the competition. General Mills, Inc., for example, recently expanded its benefits to support employees at all life stages — increasing maternal leave, parental leave and bereavement as well as adding a new caregiver leave benefit.
Younger generations, the fastest growing segments of the workforce, continue to worry about how to get out from under substantial student debt. On average, graduates of the class of 2017 owe almost $40,000 in student loan debt, according to Forbes. Fidelity’s Step Ahead program alleviates some of the financial burdens its recent graduates face. The company offers employees up to $2,000 a year toward repayment of their student loans. Since the student loan benefit is paid monthly, employees who leave the company don’t have to repay the benefit.
While Millennials and Gen Z might be more interested in educational and debt reduction benefits, perks like legal insurance have cross-generational appeal. That’s because legal insurance provides support for issues anyone can encounter over the course of their lives — whether fighting a traffic ticket, buying and selling a home, handling a dispute with a neighbor or getting assistance with estate planning and caregiving.
Another approach, modeled on consumer- driven health care savings accounts, provides employees with an allowance that can be applied to purchase benefits of their choice. LinkedIn takes a purpose-driven approach to benefits, looking to create programs that “make a difference in people’s lives.” The company also recognizes that its employees know what they need more than the company does, so it puts money in their hands to spend on the benefits most relevant to them. Its Perk Up! program gives employees up to $500 per quarter to spend on lifestyle perks such as a personal trainer, gym memberships, financial planning, child care, elder care or even a professional dog walker.
Options, Options, Options
With diversity in generations comes diversity in needs and expectations — especially as it relates to benefits. Creating a comprehensive benefits experience — ideally one that’s easily customizable — recognizes and respects those differences. Study after study shows that employees consider benefits increasingly important to their overall job satisfaction. With the right benefits experience in place, employers can build loyalty and improve retention, and it will make it easier to recruit top talent, no matter into which generation those employees fall.