Patricia Chaney

The Most Important Benefits to Employees, by Generation

The average modern American workplace sees multiple generations working side by side. According to Deft Research‘s 2018 Group Benefit Decision-Makers Study, millennials make up about 35 percent of the labor market, Gen X accounts for 33 percent and baby boomers comprise 25 percent. These groups are bookended by smaller percentages of older and younger workers, meaning that a company may have up to five generations in the workforce together.

Meanwhile, low unemployment has led to a tight labor market and stiff competition for top talent, which means that determining the most important benefits to employees is a higher priority than ever. Millennials in particular are known to job hop. Although companies large and small have raised wages in an attempt to attract and retain employees, money isn’t all each generation is after. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) showed that 92 percent of employees find benefits important to their overall job satisfaction. Nearly a third of employees cited benefits as a reason to stay in or leave their current positions.

So how can you craft a benefits package that appeals to the needs of employees across generations? Knowing which benefits will appeal to certain employees — and where there’s overlap — may be the key to offering a universally popular set of benefits.

Top 6 Benefits Across Generations

Appealing to multiple generations in the workforce may not be as challenging as it first seems; many generations want similar offerings from their employers. Here are the top six.

  1. Health insurance. Faced with the rising costs of health care, every generation ranks health benefits at the top of their list. Offering multiple plans can appeal to several age groups. For example, millennials might have tighter budgets and may opt for a less expensive high-deductible plan, whereas boomers may want the comprehensive coverage that a more expensive plan offers. SHRM found that among the more than one-third of organizations that increased their benefits in the last year, health benefits and wellness programs were the first benefits to get a boost. Most of them did this to retain and recruit employees.
  2. Supplemental insurance. Deft Research found that many companies were increasing their supplemental insurance offerings, too — from life, dental and vision to short- and long-term disability insurance. According to Deft’s study, both small and large companies had a mix of employers paying all or some of the cost for these options, while some firms offered these plans but asked employees to cover the full cost. Making options available gives employees a chance to customize their benefits package.
  3. Retirement savings. Gen Xers see retirement on the horizon, and baby boomers are almost there, so assistance with retirement savings will appeal to these groups. And although millennials may not rank retirement benefits as highly as others, they still want and expect some kind of retirement savings option, as they’re starting to increase their retirement contributions.
  4. Flexible schedules. Many members of Gen X have now become part of a “sandwich generation,” caught between caring for both children and aging parents. These responsibilities can impact their schedules in unpredictable ways. Meanwhile, millennials on the whole value flexibility and work-life balance. Offering flexible schedules and telecommuting options when feasible is a simple way to appeal to these generations. SHRM found that in the coming years, human resource professionals expect flexible working options to become increasingly important to recruiting top talent.
  5. Paid leave. Paid family leave is becoming a larger factor in keeping Gen X and millennial employees satisfied with their benefits. Many millennials are in the midst of starting families, and Gen Xers may also occasionally need time off to care for their children and parents. This is why paid leave will appeal to the life demands of younger generations.
  6. Financial assistance/counseling. It’s no secret that millennials face higher debt than older generations, largely thanks to student loans. While some companies offer student loan repayment assistance to attract this generation, not all organizations can afford this benefit. Offering financial counseling or financial planning services, however, has broader appeal. Boomers are looking to maximize their retirement savings, and Gen X employees are looking to save for their children’s future as well as their own — and financial planning is still a key tool for millennial employees with student debt. Even if you’re not able to offer direct assistance with debt, financial services that help employees plan for their goals show your concern for their welfare.

Communicating Benefits to Employees

When you enhance your benefits, it’s important to communicate those changes to employees. They aren’t always aware of the supplemental insurance options or financial planning services available to them — or what these benefits cost the company. Communicating the investment you’re making in employees may reassure them of your commitment to their well-being and help you keep them loyal to your business.

Some companies provide employees with a detailed statement showing what portion of benefits the employer covers and how much those investments cost. If this seems a little transactional, SHRM suggests tying those statements to wider company goals. Younger generations in particular seek out purpose in their jobs, so having a strong mission statement and values — and linking your investment in benefits back to those values — could appeal to millennials and the rising Generation Z.

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Remember, finally, to keep communication going two ways. Send out occasional surveys to stay up to date on the most important benefits to employees. Keeping your offerings aligned with expectations helps ensure that the talent you recruit sees the value in your benefits package and helps you retain the skilled employees that make your business successful — no matter what generation they’re part of.

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