Evan Davidge: How to engage a multi-generational workforce with benefits

Evan Davidge

There are several different ways of cutting a multi-generational workforce but most research shows that there are five distinct age segments, ranging from traditionalists (1928-1944) to generation Zs (1995+). A lot has been written about the wants and needs of different generations in terms of how they perceive work and their attitudes towards employee benefits. But is some of it myth or reality? And is there too much made of generational differences?

Arup embarked on a major UK benefits review in 2011. Although we found that there was high satisfaction with the benefits package, it was very much geared to longer-serving and senior people through legacy arrangements that had existed over many years, with little attention given to the growth and diverse needs of a multi-generational workforce. Specifically, we take on around 300 graduates a year and the package was not responsive. In turn, this was impacting on our aspiration to be an employer of choice and diversity. Above all, group risk benefits were becoming out-dated and unsustainable, affected by legislative and societal changes.

Our research showed that the financial lifecycle had a significant bearing on our employees’ disposition towards benefits with different perceptions of what is important to them. For example, younger generations are more motivated by lifestyle benefits while older generations favour risk protection benefits. But there were common denominators in relation to work-life balance, a flexible package, exciting and challenging work on major projects and wellbeing. Many ‘Arupians’ have an independence of spirit that is reflected in their pursuit of work and technical excellence, it is what makes us stand out as a world-class organisation. However, the organisation was not perceived to be fully reciprocating on that intellectual and emotional commitment.

So rather than treating each generation differently, we adopted a common philosophy focused on creating healthier and engaged employees, as well as achieving reasonable prosperity through the benefits package. Benefits had to be more integral to a new total reward proposition in order to attract, retain and motivate our best talent. Strategically, it is about the whole person in terms of their physical, emotional and financial wellbeing.

Flexible working, career breaks/sabbaticals, holidays, flexible benefits and risk protection benefits were changed, along with the roll-out of an innovative wellbeing programme. We redistributed the benefits spend in a cost-neutral way, with something in it for everyone.

As an employee-owned organisation, it was really important to give everyone a voice and open up all channels of communication. This meant that all employees had an opportunity to give their feedback to the changes and connect with the new package. We initially met fierce resistance from senior employees, but we were able to convince them of the merits of a more inclusive benefits package.

The results have been encouraging. The Working at Arup survey, conducted in 2013, found that 85% of respondents are proud to work at Arup and 80% would recommend it as a place to work. Research undertaken on our behalf by the UK graduate careers survey and the Times Top 100 graduate employers in 2015 rates Arup as top in our sector.

Active flex enrolment has increased from 47% in 2011 to 78% in 2015. Notably, travel insurance take-up has increased by 500%, mainly by younger employees. Satisfaction with benefits is at an all-time high: 80% of employees believe the package meets their needs. Two-thirds of our employees are actively engaged in improving their wellbeing. Productivity has increased across the UK, with the organisation achieving its best profits for many years, resulting in higher profit share payments to all employees.

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The key lesson from engaging a multi-generational workforce with benefits is to find a common philosophy and approach that appeals to all. Every generation has different needs and a good benefits manager should have the insight to meet the expectations of everyone, irrespective of age. This is reality as opposed to myth.

Evan Davidge is head of reward at Arup