Originally published on BenefitsPro
One of the most significant shifts in the landscape of U.S. workforce demographics has been the increase in the number of generations working side by side. For benefits consultants, it’s a reality that creates a large challenge and an even greater opportunity.
- The challenge is to understand how employers will be affected by the new diversity of perspectives, experiences, needs, expectations, and preferences among the four (soon to be five!) generations that comprise today’s workforce.
- The big opportunity is to provide guidance to HR and benefits leaders on how to navigate those differences and support them to design benefit plans that appeal to the entire spectrum of age groups in today’s workforce.
After all, a benefits program that drives a greater employee experience for each employee in each generation will, in turn, support employers to hire better talent, increase employee engagement and boost retention.
The good news is that brokers already have access to tools to support employers and achieve the opportunities ahead. More to the point, brokers should consider leveraging six proven, practical strategies as well as HR data to help their employer clients ensure their programs are up to the challenge of engaging a multigenerational workforce.
Let’s define our benefit audiences
Baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z are the generations that make up the bulk of today’s workforce. Demographers don’t all agree on what years bound each generation, but here is a generally accepted breakdown, with quick insights from research by the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School:
- Born between 1946 and 1964
- Account for roughly 19% of the U.S. workforce
- Aging and their rate of retirement has begun to accelerate
- Value stability and job security but also seek personal growth and development
- Born between 1965 and 1979
- Account for nearly 36% of the U.S. workforce
- Often overlooked because of the much larger generations before and after it (Gen X number about 62.5 million people)
- Sometimes viewed as “skeptical” or “negative,” tend to be independent and have learned to thrive on change
- Born between 1980 and 1995
- Number an estimated 80 million — 39% of today’s U.S. workforce, a share expected to hold steady for the next few years at least
- The most ethnically diverse generation, will have a large impact on DEI initiatives, and they’re the first to grow up with 24/7 access to the internet.
- Born between 1996 and 2010
- Represents about 6% of the U.S. workforce, the oldest of whom is just entering the workforce
- Starting their careers during a time of growing inflation, mounting student loan debt, a housing crisis and an impending recession. As one research report said, “On the whole, Gen Z has been dealt a difficult hand, and it’s defining how they engage in work.”
In addition, two other generations may also be present in some workforces. One segment, the Traditionalists, or “the Silent Generation,” is gradually becoming an even smaller share of the workforce; their youngest member is now 77 years old. The other small segment, Generation Alpha, will soon be growing as a slice of the workforce. They have been born since 2009 and grown up in a fully digital world.
Benefits advisors who understand the values of each generation will be better positioned to help employers tailor their approaches to meet the specific needs of a more-diverse workforce. When you help HR and benefits leaders bridge the generational divide within their organizations, you empower them to:
- Drive greater operational effectiveness
- Increase competitiveness
- Widen a company’s appeal to customers and job prospects of all ages
- Build long-term resilience within the company culture
- Reduce turnover
- Improve collaboration
Don’t overlook their similarities
While it’s critical to understand the differences among the generations in today’s workforce, brokers also need a firm understanding of their commonly shared attitudes, behaviors and beliefs. Having this insight can make it easier to create an inclusive benefits program.
One survey identified five values that all of the generations in today’s workforce share:
- The desire for their organizations to succeed
- The characteristics of a good leader (someone who fosters organizational cultures that encourage leaders to lead by example; be accessible; serves as a coach or mentor; and challenges employees and holds them accountable)
- The desire to have some success in their careers, regardless of age
- The realization that everyone ages; we’re all somewhere on the spectrum of life’s stages
- New and unanticipated challenges lie ahead
Looking more closely at benefits preferences, the Forbes Advisor survey found that Gen Z, Gen X, and baby boomers all prioritize:
- Flexible work options
- Paid time off
- Parental leave
6 strategies to support benefits for a multigenerational workforce
Employers — and indeed, many benefits advisors — may find themselves in a quandary over how to develop strategies that successfully cater to the demands and expectations of employees in all generations. Here are six strategies that will help brokers more effectively provide multigenerational employee benefits.
- Use data to get to know the workforce. Brokers are in a unique position to work with HR and benefits leaders to help them tap into data to better understand their employee demographics. By analyzing data on employee demographics, behaviors, and engagement levels, brokers and benefits leaders together can gain a deeper understanding of employee needs and expectations. For example, HR data may reveal that baby boomers are seeking more opportunities for career growth and development, while millennials value work-life balance and flexible schedules. Armed with this knowledge, brokers can create a benefits package that addresses the specific needs of each generation.
- Encourage employers to conduct focus groups or listening tours for each generation and get specific input. Focus groups and listening tours with each generation in the workforce give brokers and benefits leaders a better understanding of what motivates employees and help tailor their benefits package accordingly. It’s also important to tailor the type of information-gathering to the preferences of different generations. For example, while baby boomers may prefer face-to-face meetings or getting printed materials, Gen Z employees may prefer digital channels such as email or social media.
- Make sure your core benefits address each stage of life. The core benefits in any employer’s package ensure everyone is cared for. What matters to a younger worker when it comes to health care will be far different from what the older workforce needs. For example, older employees may require more health benefits, while younger employees may be OK with a slimmer medical plan but desire greater opportunities for career development. Employee benefits leaders can also consider incorporating non-traditional benefits that appeal to all generations, such as mental health support services or flexible work arrangements. Additionally, brokers can suggest a flexible benefits plan, where employees can customize their benefits according to their individual needs.
- Communicate — and then communicate some more. Brokers can support HR by helping them to communicate effectively across all generations and tailor their communications to each generation. Baby boomers, for example, value job security and loyalty to their employer. On the other hand, Gen Xers prioritize work-life balance and flexibility. By understanding these differences, you can tailor your communication strategies to better resonate with each generation. Regardless of the generation in mind, benefits consultants need to make sure communication is clear, easy to understand and sent through multiple channels. Keep your messages simple and concise: Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z have grown up in a digital age where information is readily available. They prefer short and straightforward messages, so keep your communication concise and to the point.
- Solicit feedback throughout the year — and act on it. Encourage your employer clients to go beyond the annual benefits survey. When you and they regularly gather feedback, you can improve on the annual benefits package more effectively and with greater efficiency when the time comes. Of course, it’s crucial to act on the feedback received from employees. Brokers can support benefits leaders to show employees that their opinions matter and can lead to tangible improvements in benefits.
- Measure then adjust. Measuring benefits utilization over time and making adjustments based on employee feedback is crucial for creating a successful employee benefits program. A broker working with a strong benefits administration partner can make it easier to do these types of data reviews. It’s a good idea to consider generational differences in processing feedback from surveys; to use technology, tracking, and measuring benefits utilization; and adjusting the benefits package accordingly,
Using the six strategies defined here, brokers can help organizations provide an effective and appealing benefits package suitable for all employees across all generations. The results: fostering a culture of engagement and inclusion to support the business and its employees.
Craig Stephens is Chief Revenue Officer for Selerix, a provider of benefits administration solutions for employers and carriers. Craig joined Selerix in 2007, bringing to the company more than 20 years of sales experience in the health care industry.