How can employers cater to multi-generational workforces in their reward packages?


Need to know:

  • Having a multi-generational workforce means catering to employees at every stage of adult life, but doing so can provide important dividends.
  • Disability and care responsibilities are among the core issues for an ageing workforce and those in the ‘squeezed middle’, but resorting to stereotypes should generally be avoided.
  • Wide-ranging packages and easily tailored funds will help employees to personalise their benefits, but need to be accompanied by effective communication.

For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the UK workforce consists of five generations working side by side. This has its challenges, as employee needs now span every stage of an adult’s life cycle, from student debt to decumulation.

RSM’s New Forces at Work: How to Manage Emerging People Risks, published in July 2018, notes that 54% of respondents believe that generational diversity makes it harder to manage employees. However, 66% believe it increases an organisation’s skill set and knowledge.

David Gibbens, associate director, RSM UK, explains: “When you have different ages you benefit from the knowledge and skills those different employees have. Everybody can learn from each other and you get a wider range of ideas. All of that contributes to a much more well-rounded workforce.”

Keeping a multi-generational workforce happy, engaged and productive can therefore be extremely valuable.

The ageing workforce and the ‘squeezed middle’

Catering to a multi-generational workforce goes hand in hand with thinking about disability, says Paul Avis, marketing director, group insurance at Canada Life. “Someone getting old has more chance of needing a health-related benefit, and therefore disability diversity is going to go up the ladder rather than down.”

Making practical provisions for working with disability, alongside health benefits, can be a cost-effective way of making sure the workplace is welcoming to all.

Another age group to consider, says Avis, is the ‘squeezed middle’: those with children coming out of university and elderly parents needing care. “If [an employee] is really worried about their kids and their financial health and the guilt associated with moving parents into a care home, they’re not overly productive at work because they’ve got all these drains on their mental health.”

Avoid using stereotypes

While there are some key things that can be assumed, such as the need for disability diversity and the problems faced by the squeezed middle, using stereotypes is likely to cause problems.

“If [employers] start by assuming what a particular generation will want in terms of benefits, [they are] not only going to probably miss some of the benefits they need, but it also demonstrates that [they are] not listening to [their] staff,” says Gibbens. “People who might be having children, for example, might benefit from childcare vouchers, but actually that spans three generations because people might be having children early or very late. Understanding what employees are going through doesn’t actually necessarily touch on generation stereotypes.”

Andrew Drake, proposition director at JLT Employee Benefits, agrees: “There will be some people in their 20s earning fairly low salaries who want to save, but you’re in danger of assuming they’re not interested because of how old they are. People can tell when sweeping generalisations have been made about them and they will disengage.”

Ask the employees

Drake suggests that using psychometrics might be the answer if employers want to avoid arbitrary definitions and base segmentation on employees’ mindsets instead. However, it is also important simply to ask.

“There’s a big bonus in speaking to employees about what they want, and then delivering stuff back that helps them,” Drake says. “Otherwise, what you’ve done is gone in with a solution without understanding what it is that that employee needs.”

Canvassing an entire workforce might seem like an ordeal, but much of this information can be gleaned from the HR processes and engagement measuring methods already in place. Line managers might also integrate discussions around what benefits fit with employees’ life stages into their everyday interactions.

Often, however, asking an employee theoretically if they want a certain benefit will result in an affirmative answer, only for the benefit to lie unused. Therefore, employers might consider asking staff instead about their particular challenges and needs, their life outside of work, and their concerns for the future.

Key benefits for everyone

Benefits such as childcare vouchers and grand-parental leave can help provide for those of any age with care responsibilities.

Meanwhile, other benefits, such as group risk products, can cater for multi-generational needs, whether through income protection, help sourcing eldercare, menopause toolkits, probate and bereavement helplines, second medical opinions or emotional advice.

“[Group risk providers] have a range of support services that can be used on a day-to-day basis,” notes Avis. “With things like [EAPs] and treatment sourcing services, you do not need to be a claimant to use them. So, the challenge with a diverse age population is an illusion, because insurers have all the materials relevant to all the demographics.”

Wide-ranging options and general funds

Another method of catering to a multi-generational workforce with diverse needs is simply to create a broad-ranging package with many options.

However, when faced with a long list of perks, employees can be left unsure as to what is on offer and which benefits will work best for them, says Jack Curzon, head of scheme design at Thomsons Online Benefits.

“The challenge many [organisations] face is that they’ve got so many things to offer and they don’t want to just throw 100 things at someone and hope something sticks,” he explains. “One option is to use a consultancy style: ask questions throughout [an employee’s] benefits journey. A decision-tree model can give employees really rich information depending on what their personal situations are.”

General funds can also be used in place of a complex list of potential options, working as a catch-all for multi-generational employees with varied needs.

“Give people an allowance to spend on whatever the [organisation] deems fit,” says Curzon. “The [employer] doesn’t need to set up specific benefits and try and manage all the providers, [employees] go and do it personally. That way [they] can truly get a personal benefits package.”

However, there is more to it when trying to ensure that these funds are used effectively by employees.

“While [a fund] might provide the incentive that [employees] are looking for, actually sometimes they don’t know what they would do with it,” warns Gibbens. “Rather than just give someone pocket money, [employers could] focus more on what will help them and what is important to them, so maybe a voucher rather than [a fund].”

Communication and education

If generational stereotypes are to be believed, many younger employees will struggle to engage with pensions. This does not mean focusing pension communications on older workers, but finding innovative ways to coach all employees on planning for the future.

In fact, whether providing an easily tailored fund or a long list of potential perks, communication without resorting to generational stereotypes is important. For example, rather than targeting certain age groups, employers might provide case studies showing how benefits have been used at various life stages, to help staff decide what might be relevant to them.

Cookies may be the future

A multi-generational benefits package should be wide-ranging, easily tailored, with core benefits that are relevant across various life stages, and underpinned by research and communication not grounded in stereotypes.

In future, other methods, better known in the world of online shopping, may come into play.

“I’m not saying the benefits industry is going to go this way too quickly, but thinking about cookies, we can get to a stage close to that,” Curzon states. “Knowing [an employee has] had kids, for example, and saying ‘here’s some Mothercare discounts’. [Employers will] soak in as much information as [possible], use data analytics so [they] can almost predict what employees are going to do, and give them the information when they need it, enabling them to make the decisions they need to make themselves.”

Read more…

Sign up to our newsletters

Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Turley uses surveys to learn about the financial wellbeing of an age-diverse workforce

Dr Yasin Rofcanin: Keeping multi-generational employees engaged and motivated