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The Only Constant is Change: How Benefits Have Evolved with Employee Needs

The Only Constant is Change: How Benefits Have Evolved with Employee Needs
Posted on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 by Marcy Klipfel

It’s clear the face of work is changing to reflect the world around it.

From the way we communicate to the way we commute, the adaptations taking place in the work force are significant.

Demographic shifts, however, may not typically be felt on a daily level, even when the changes are clearly reflected in the data. Workers older than 64, for example, are growing as a proportion of the U.S. labor force. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, now make up a third of all American workers (and have surpassed Gen X and Boomers as the largest generation in the workforce). Plus, there is a new kid on the block, Generation Z is now old enough to enter the workforce bringing a whole new approach to work and benefits.

It’s easy to dismiss these demographic shifts as inevitable facts of life with little impact on one’s day-to-day activities. But for HR professionals, it’s a job requirement to not only understand these trends, but to build benefits programs in accordance with the changes they signal.

Even the most astute employer may be overlooking how the generational diversity of today’s workforce impacts benefits packages. Just as a leader must adjust their management style to reach everyone from Gen Z to Boomers, so too must a company’s benefits package diversify to meet the varying lifestyle, financial, and emotional needs of employees at all stages of life. The one-size-fits-all benefits package of the past is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of all employees.

In order to understand the expansive possibilities for a generationally inclusive benefits package, we can start by looking at the trends that HR professionals have observed in what employees are asking for from their benefits. Here are the factors to be aware of as you consider creating a more comprehensive benefits package:

Technology is having an impact.

What was once a desk job can now be considered a work-from-anywhere job. Since 1996, telecommuting benefits have seen a threefold increase, from 20 percent to 60 percent in 2016. With today’s workers more comfortable with technology than ever before, remote work and flexible schedules are becoming increasingly popular benefits offerings.

There’s more competition than ever.

Facebook was one of the first major tech companies to offer robust paid-leave benefits for caregivers, bereavement, and parents. The response from employees was overwhelmingly positive. The company’s annual employee benefit survey revealed 90 percent of employees thought that Facebook cared about them. As major companies increasingly offer top-of-the-line benefits, the bar is raised for all to re-evaluate potential new and improved benefits options that speak to employees at different points in their lives. In a labor market with an unemployment level of just 3.8 percent in February 2019, workers have the power to choose positions at employers who offer the most comprehensive packages possible.

The HDHP craze may be cooling.

What was once a relative panic in the benefits space after the passing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 has mostly dissipated. Employers adjusted to fears about taxes on high-cost plans by offering high-deductible health plans (HDHP) alongside the more expensive custom plans. HDHP plans bring their own consequences, from affordability issues to low utilization, leading many employers to offer multiple plans to cover all employees’ needs. With the market regulating itself in this regard, more employees will come to annual enrollment expecting HDHP as one of, if not their only, plan option.

Tuition and student loan assistance is a priority.

In 2019, the average student debt in the United States is $32,731. Facing this number without support can be a major source of stress for many graduates and their parents, alike. It’s becoming a trend for companies to offer student loan assistance, savings support, and pay-off plans for employees saddled with debt.

Traditional benefits don’t need to go away.

Despite these changes, however, traditional benefits don’t need to go away. Gen Z workers tend to have more in common with Boomers than their Millennial counterparts, suggesting that traditional benefits programs for professional development and retirement may not be going away any time soon.

Keep in mind that even though generational labels are a fun way to conceive of our differences, there’s much more in common among your workforce than you may think. What’s important is to focus on the real-life situations your employees are facing and to craft programs that speak to your employees — not only the labor trends making headlines.

Benefits are great and can be used to attract and retain top talent. But only if your employees know about them. Download our e-book below to learn more about how a Total Rewards solution can help.