Offering Benefits to Meet the Needs of a Multi-Generational Workforce

Kim Buckey, with DirectPath, discusses generational preferences in health and voluntary benefits and how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced benefit offerings.

Employers have always been faced with the challenge of balancing their increasingly limited compensation and benefits budgets with employees’ needs and demands. Today’s employment market has been extremely competitive—at least until recently—with low unemployment making it hard to compete for and retain top talent. Having multiple generations in the workforce with overlapping, but often very different, needs makes these challenges even more daunting.

Benefits packages were already critical to the workforce: According to Glassdoor, employees and job seekers focus on benefits (63%) almost as much as salary (67%) when searching for a new job. And, increasingly, employees expect the ability to tailor their benefits package to best suit their particular needs.

Each generation has different expectations for what a benefits program should entail, usually shaped by their own experiences. Recent events have focused the workforce’s attention on health and welfare and financial protections like never before. Once the economy reopens and employers begin to re-engage their workforce, their “new normal” will likely include the need to re-examine benefits offerings. Even “standard” offerings such as medical coverage can benefit (pun intended) from another look, and voluntary benefit offerings can help fill significant gaps. 

Generational Preferences

Generally speaking, members of Generation Z—young professionals just starting their careers—and Millennials are particularly focused on work/life balance and financial protections. Plans and programs such as student loan repayment support, work from home capabilities—particularly now that this has become standard for many employers over the past few months—health savings accounts (HSAs) when high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are offered and coverages such as group home, auto and pet coverage are often well-received.

Generation X is also focused on work/life balance, particularly with respect to child care and elder care. Consider programs that help reduce taxes while protecting existing income—such as health care and dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) or HSAs—or programs that offer financial protections such as identity theft, will preparation or financial planning/legal services. These programs can help alleviate stress around issues such as balancing retirement planning and college tuition, either payments or savings.

Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation are focused on maintaining their health, managing chronic illnesses and preparing for retirement—as well as providing for their loved ones if they can no longer work or die unexpectedly. Voluntary life, supplemental medical programs such as critical illness or cancer coverage and whole life, possibly with a long-term care rider, are programs employers should consider offering.

In addition to voluntary benefits, many employers are exploring programs and services that are paid on a per employee per month (PEPM) basis, but which provide a substantial return on investment (ROI) for the employer—either in terms of cost savings or employee satisfaction. These might include programs such as direct provider contracting, egg freezing or fertility treatment, or services that leverage data analytics to improve and target communications and services.

Benefits for Every Generation

For employers looking to “tweak” existing benefits, virtual health care can have a positive effect. Younger generations tend not to have primary care physicians (PCPs) and typically prefer to use urgent care centers or retail clinics to manage routine checkups and treatment. And, for the foreseeable future, employees of all generations will likely prefer to avoid waiting rooms and doctors’ offices. For those individuals who do have doctors, whether PCPs or specialists, they may be faced with the need to find new providers as doctors have closed their practices, retired or moved to administrative positions as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Expanding virtual care options—and offering advocacy programs that can help employees find doctors that meet their health care (and network) requirements—may be critical in both the short and long term.

Employers may also partner with niche health care firms, such as those that can provide remote monitoring and care via video chats and data from monitoring devices, to help manage the health of participants with chronic conditions.

Online care can also be extended to mental health care—services that may be welcome as we emerge from quarantine. Consider expanding the number of visits available under your employee assistance program (EAP) and expanding EAP services to cover less obvious, but still important, legal and financial counseling programs. Having someone to talk to about these significant stressors can help employees focus on returning to work and productivity.

Regardless of generation and benefit interests, most employees will welcome one-on-one counseling about their benefits choices. With money tight and health a concern, understanding the financial implications from a premium and cost-sharing perspective will be more important than ever. Concierge-level services can provide employees with the opportunity to learn about their benefits from experts who have the experience to help them make the appropriate choices for their families—and can do so from the comfort of their own homes.

Voluntary Coverage

Given the rolling nature of the return to work, employers may be forced to look at alternative ways to provide key benefits to employees. The beauty of voluntary benefits is that employees can enroll at any time of year. Contact a broker to discuss a campaign to introduce employees to these offerings, help them enroll and make the most of their choices—whether during open enrollment or off-cycle. In fact, off-cycle may make more sense, as employees may be noticing where the gaps are in their coverage and won’t be competing with the traditional enrollment period for attention.

One sign that a company truly treats its employees right is that it continually evaluates its benefits package and adjusts it according to employees’ needs and market standards. As many employers are beginning to plan their benefits strategy for 2021—and even for the rest of this year—it’s more important than ever to keep those needs and standards in mind. Whether you’re replacing workforce members who have moved on or are re-onboarding furloughed employees, it’s time to focus on the needs of every generation on your team.


Kim Buckey is vice president, Client Services at DirectPath LLC, headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts. The firm provides personalized benefits education, health care transparency and tax-advantaged reimbursement plan administration to Fortune 1000 employers, and keeps employers in compliance by producing summary plan descriptions, summaries of benefits and coverage and related required communications. Buckey is DirectPath’s key adviser and senior subject matter expert on new and evolving compliance issues that affect employers as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Buckey, who founded and directs the compliance communications team, works closely with sales, marketing and product development to explore the potential impact on customer segments and develop new products and services to support current and anticipated needs.

This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal or tax advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice. Any opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the stance of Institutional Shareholder Services or its affiliates.