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Tips to Tailor Your Company Benefits to Attract Different Generations

Four: That’s the number of generations you might have in a workforce. But if you’re trying to recruit and retain across such a broad age range, how do find the best mix of benefits?

Some benefits align with generations in a way that just makes sense. For example, baby boomers may be less likely to have childcare needs, but more likely to rely on assistance for caregiving of older family members. And your employees may be concentrated in just a few generations, making the mixing-and-matching simpler.

As an owner or manager, it’s about balancing needs and wants with the makeup of your workforce as well as your budget. And how you refine and highlight your benefits can help you be more strategic in attracting and keeping different generations, too. In a Principal® business owner survey, 70% of small and midsize businesses said employee benefits help them recruit qualified employees, and more than 70% said benefits are critical to helping improve retention.

As a small business owner, “you may think you don’t have the resources to do as much, but you may have a better opportunity to customize benefits to your workforce versus what bigger companies can do,” says Mark West, national vice president of business solutions at Principal.

Here’s how to get started.

Who are today’s workforce generations?

  • Generation Z, the youngest of those in the workforce, were born between 1997 and 2012 and account for just 5% of the workforce.

  • Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, make up about one-third of the U.S. workforce, but in just eight years they’ll account for two-thirds of all employees.

  • Generation X, people born between 1965 and 1980, are like millennials, about one-third of all employees.

  • Baby boomers, or those people born between 1946 and 1964, are currently about one-fourth of the workforce. Many are nearing, or already in, retirement.

  • Health insurance coverage: The benefit everyone wants

It’s no surprise that the No.1 benefit all generations want is health insurance coverage.

One way you can use health insurance strategically is to offer a choice — more than one plan to choose from. For example, offering two dental plans may allow you to offer orthodontia coverage (for a higher premium) in one plan, which may appeal to employees who have preteen children.

Financial planning benefits

Think about flexing these benefits for your workforce’s life stage. For example, while student debt repayment assistance may be important to a lot of your employees, for those starting careers with the weight of student debt on their minds, assistance with that might be a tipping point to choose or stick with you as an employer. Of course, every person is different—even in the same generation—but some common goals and concerns include:

  • Gen Z: Student debt repayment assistance, tuition reimbursement, financial wellness education.

  • Millennials: Student debt repayment assistance, tuition reimbursement, retirement plans, financial wellness education.

  • Gen X: Retirement plans, financial wellness education, life and disability insurance, will preparation services.

  • Baby boomers: Retirement plans, life and disability insurance, will preparation services.

Wellness and family planning benefits

It’s hard to create a benefits package for the generations in your workforce in a vacuum. “Listen to employees and try to understand what they want and need,” West says. “They’ll appreciate that you asked for their input.” Focus groups and surveys can help.

West has two family members who work for businesses that offer a set amount of money to use as they want for wellness. “They can use the funds toward a new tennis racket, fitness watch, golf clubs, massage — whatever helps them the most. They turn in their receipts and are reimbursed for the expense,” West says.

Although no benefit recommendations are universal for every member of a generation, in general, here’s what might appeal most to the four biggest groups in today’s workforce.

  • Gen Z: Mental health benefits and programs, lower premium and out-of-pocket cost for health insurance, fitness club membership or workplace gym, pet insurance.

  • Millennials: Mental health benefits and programs, fitness club membership or workplace gym, paid parental leave (across gender identities), flexible spending account for childcare expenses, assistance with building families (adoption, infertility coverage), vision and dental insurance, pet insurance.

  • Gen X: Paid parental leave (across gender identities), voluntary coverage (life, long-term care, critical illness, accident insurance, hospital indemnity), caregiving benefits or leave.

  • Baby boomers: Fitness club membership or workplace gym, vision and dental insurance, voluntary coverage (life, long-term care, critical illness, accident insurance, hospital indemnity), caregiving benefits or leave, discounts on health services (e.g., chiropractic care).

Work-life flexibility and training benefits

A flexible work schedule is table stakes for today’s workforce. And business owners are acting accordingly: Nearly three-quarters of businesses say their remote and hybrid work arrangements will be permanent, according to the 2022 Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM.

  • Gen Z and millennials: Flexible work schedules, hybrid/remote options, training and education, skills development, casual dress code, ability to buy (or get) more time off.

  • Gen X: Flexible work schedules, ability to buy (or get) more time off.

  • Baby boomers: Benefits for part-time employees who want to “ease” into retirement.


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