Tim Wells: How can employers offer benefits to suit all generations?

Supporting numerous generations of employees in the workforce (primarily Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y) is currently a major challenge for HR professionals globally. One size does not fit all.

This becomes particularly evident when offering benefits packages because each generation has different needs and priorities. Organisations looking to tackle this and attract and retain talent across the generations are considering three factors when designing their benefits programmes.

Firstly, carry out research through employee surveys and focus groups to get to know and understand employees, their needs and expectations. Employees at different stages of life will have different priorities, so identifying these is vital to enabling the finalised benefits programme to offer appropriate support.

Are employees looking to have high-level pension contributions and comprehensive medical coverage (typically Traditionalists and Baby Boomers); childcare support, medical cover and the opportunity to cash out some benefits (Generation X); or would they rather have the option to purchase more holiday entitlement to enable them to travel (Generation Y)? 

The option to vary the coverage levels of certain benefits is important because Baby Boomers may prefer to contribute higher levels of salary than Generation Y employees to their pension, so they should have the option to do this. Identify specific benefits and coverage levels that can be offered to meet the priorities and needs identified in the research stage. 

Secondly, develop a flexible methodology through which the benefits can be delivered, enabling employees to select those most relevant to them.  Online platforms are a proven method for facilitating this approach, particularly for organisations with a geographically dispersed workforce

Thirdly, offer a varied approach to working practices and career development, which can also help to meet employee needs across generations. For example, flexible-working arrangements are popular with Generation X and opportunities to undertake international secondments as part of a career development programme are attractive to Generation Y. 

We have not touched on budgeting, compliance and implementation here, but these should obviously also be considered at this early stage to ensure success. Implementing flexible benefits programmes has been shown to result in higher engagement levels among existing employees and therefore contribute to employee retention. They are also shown to be attractive to prospective candidates and should make an organisation stand out from the crowd.

Tim Wells is director at Wells and Co Consulting