Economic Development, Human Resources, and Technology

Strategist: ‘Creative’ benefit offerings an important HR tool

Speaker says it’s crucial to address generational differences when assembling employee benefits.

October 5, 2018
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As four generations co-exist in the workplace, a human resources strategist said it’s important to offer health, wealth, heart and mind benefits that address their varying needs and values.

Lisa Cooper, people strategist at Grand Rapids-based HR Collaborative, gave a talk called “Benefits Across Generations” at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 3.

Her remarks were part of an event, “Health & Wealth: Benefit Strategies for 2018 & Beyond,” co-hosted by the firms Action Point Financial, HR Collaborative, Hylant and Varnum.

Any benefits strategy should consist of a continuous, six-step cycle, Cooper said in her presentation: survey; benchmark; strategize and align; implement; communicate; and evaluate.

That process should be used for all generations, but Cooper said the feedback about needs will vary with each generation — and employers should pay attention and tailor strategies to maximize their talent attraction and retention.

Cooper said the four generations currently employed are traditionalists (born between 1922 and 1945 and making up 1 percent of the workforce); baby boomers (born 1946-1964, 27 percent of the workforce); Generation X (born 1965-1979, 27 percent of the workforce); and millennials (born 1980-1997, 44 percent of the workforce).

Drawing on input from the audience, Cooper delineated the values of each generation.

Traditionalist priorities include security, consistency, loyalty, conservatism and respect. The younger end of the generation, who are 70-75, still can be found in leadership roles and are shaped by events from their parents’ generation — the Great Depression and World War II — that happened before they were born or when they were too young to remember.

“My grandpa worked for IBM for like 400 years before he retired,” Cooper said. “That generation felt it was meaningful that you stayed in one place, you got your pension and you checked out on the last day.”

Baby boomers — the generation who witnessed the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, “went to Woodstock” and lived through the Civil Rights movement, Cooper said — care more about pushing boundaries, innovating, experimenting, trying new things and having a good time. But many of them also value longevity at one company, want job and financial security, and are looking to build wealth.

Not as technologically savvy as younger generations, “We have to help those folks with their skills,” Cooper said. “They didn’t grow up with the internet of things like I did.”

As a smaller generation sandwiched between boomers and millennials, Generation X wants to be heard, Cooper said. As so-called “latch-key kids” who grew up with both parents working and managed on their own, Gen X employees are independent, hardworking and self-sufficient. They learned about computers and the internet in high school or college, so technology is a second language to them. They also are the first generation without an employer- or government-provided pension.

“These guys are seeking balance with parents and kids at home but also putting in 40, 50, 60 hours a week and telecommuting hopefully a little bit, but maybe not as much as they would like. They’re striving for balance,” Cooper said.

Millennials — who went through 9/11, school shootings and the rise of social media — also treasure work-life balance and family, but even more, they look to make a positive environmental and social impact, promote diversity and equity, and be part of a mission they believe in.

Cooper said millennials are willing to accept lower pay — as long as it’s a living wage — if they feel they and their organization are making the world a better place.

They are a very social media-savvy generation but long for authentic, face-to-face connections as well, she said.

Cooper shared the following ideas for benefits that align with each age group’s needs and desires:

Traditionalists: health and wealth

  • Phased retirement — Cooper said this can include working 40-50 hours a week, phasing slowly down to 30, 20 and 10, then being put on a contract or retainer basis, then paid hourly for “ad hoc” calls for advice.

  • Retiree health care plans — only about 20 percent of companies offer this now, but companies should do their homework on all the options, including supplemental Medicare plans or plans on the exchange they can point retirees toward.

  • Employer discounts on home and auto insurance

  • Chronic disease management assistance

  • HRAs — health reimbursement arrangements “where the employee or the retiree can be reimbursed for health-related expenses that aren’t covered by traditional Medicare or Medicaid plans or traditional employee group plans,” Cooper said.

Traditionalists: heart and mind

  • Two-way mentor programs where younger and older employees mutually assist one another

  • Retirement coaches who help ease the transition out of the workforce

  • Advanced care plans that spell out what should be done if the employee can no longer make his/her decisions — local companies such as Making Choices Michigan offer this

Boomers: health and wealth

  • High deductible health plan (HDHP) paired with a health savings account (HSA), valued for its tax-shelter benefits

  • Voluntary critical illness plans or accident plans to bring peace of mind about the risk of injury to a dependent

  • Identity theft — partnering with an organization like LifeLock that helps users figure out what to do if their data is breached

  • On-site exercise programs like yoga or cardio classes in the office lobby or conference room

  • Retirement plan match with catch up for those with no pension or a delayed or depleted 401(k)

  • Legal and estate planning services

  • Ergonomic enhancement of workstations

  • Long-term care benefits

Boomers: heart and mind

  • Pre-retirement workshops — gatherings to which organizations can send employees that include Social Security, retirement plan, financial, benefits and employee assistance program representatives “for somebody who is even thinking they might want to retire and is trying to get some information about where do you start,” Cooper said.

  • Mindfulness training

  • EAP, or employee assistance program, benefits

  • Concierge services, including on-site dry-cleaning pickup and drop-off; same-day appointment scheduling; and wellness coach access for creating a tailored wellness plan for an employee

  • 24/7 nurse hotline or telehealth that enables employees to get a check-up or emergency question answered without leaving work

  • Sabbatical

Generation X: health and wealth

  • Opportunity advancement, including different experiences in different roles, whether they are upward, sideways or downward on the company ladder.

  • Company stock options

  • Child care benefits

  • Paid family/parental leave, including paid paternal leave, leave for same-sex couples or anyone taking care of a baby and surrogacy leave

  • Tuition reimbursement

  • Financial education

  • 529 or college savings plans

  • Adoption reimbursement

  • Cellphone stipend — “If your (employees) are on a schedule where you expect them to work at all hours, you better pay at least a $25 stipend for their cellphone,” Cooper said.

  • Logging and reimbursement of travel miles

Generation X: heart and mind

  • Independence

  • PTO, flexible schedules and remote days — and employers shouldn’t take back the ability to work from home once it’s been given, Cooper said, since it might cause employee turnover.

  • Blue jean Fridays

  • Leadership coaches

  • Concierge services

  • Cross-functional team projects

  • Pets at work — “Run the experiment. If it flops, it flops. We won’t know until we try,” Cooper said, noting the exceptions including health care and manufacturing settings.

Millennials: health and wealth

  • Student loan repayment — employers administering debt repayment contributions. “Millennials prefer student loan repayment twice as much as a 401(k) match,” Cooper said.

  • Timely access to earned wages — including options such as PayActiv, where they can get their wages paid at the end of the day and/or get paid more on certain days, and then they have two pay periods to pay it back, interest-free.

  • Professional development

  • Financial literacy

  • Bring your own device stipend

  • Pet insurance

  • Spot bonuses

  • A “mom’s room” that allows privacy and time to express breast milk

  • Disability insurance or “baby cash”

Millennials: heart and mind

  • They love fun

  • Frequent performance feedback

  • Mobile learning and gamification

  • Experiences

  • Jeans every day

  • Remote work

  • Real-time communication

  • Matching contributions to favorite charity or paid time off to volunteer

  • Unlimited volunteer opportunities

  • Team outings

Benefits that transcend generations

Cooper said many benefits are appreciated by all workers no matter their age, including regular communication of company strategies and “wins,” employee referral programs, flu shots, wellness challenges using Fitbit, water, gym discounts, sports leagues, travel benefits, standing desks, healthy snacks and service anniversary awards.

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