Now that Millennials are the largest age group in the workforce, innovative companies are evolving their benefits programs to attract and retain a new generation of employees.
For the past 20 years, employers have strategically adjusted benefits to respond to employee demands, technological advances and a changing economy, reports the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Some core benefits — like healthcare, retirement planning and employee assistance programs — stayed the same, according to SHRM’s 2016 Employee Benefits survey of over 3,000 HR professionals. But other benefits have evolved to specifically target Millennials. More frequent rewards, workplace flexibility, student loan repayments and financial education programs are just some of the ways companies are competing for younger talent.
“Millennials are the first generation where we are seeing this big change, but they won’t be the last,” said Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer for workplace data firm Visier. “The generations that follow will be distinct in their own right, and organizations that stay ahead of that curve will ultimately be more successful.”
Here’s a look at some of the benefits and workplace policies that can matter most to the Millennial workforce:
1. Earning Frequent Rewards
Millennials value a faster pace of career advancement that provides frequent feedback and rewards for meeting certain benchmarks. According to Weisbeck, they want to “gamify” their careers — a reference to online games and applications that reward players for completing specific tasks.
“Millennials appreciate that constant feedback loop and the advancement that goes with it to reaffirm that they are doing great work,” Weisbeck said.
This shift could mean that employers will commend a worker’s performance or award a promotion or raise outside of the traditional annual review period. To do this, companies are starting to expand job roles to offer additional intermediate steps for employees to advance in their careers.
Many employers have increased bonus awards — including those for signing and retention — for a wider range of employees, SHRM reports. Some 56 percent of organizations surveyed now offer service anniversary awards, and 51 percent offer non-executive bonus plans.
2. Gaining Financial Confidence
Millennials are interested in repaying student loan debt, saving for retirement at an earlier age, managing credit card debt and financing home purchases, according to Brian Nelson Ford, who heads SunTrust’s Momentum onUp program.
This voluntary financial fitness program provides rewards to employees for completing financial tasks. It has been offered to SunTrust employees for the past two years and is being rolled out to other companies including Delta, Havertys and 1-800 Contacts.
The program covers eight pillars of “financial greatness,” which can be completed online, via mobile devices, through workbooks and in classes. It also provides interactive tools for managing life events, from budgeting for everyday purchases to planning for a wedding, college or retirement.
In a 2016 pilot at a company that primarily employs Millennials, participants improved their knowledge about emergency savings accounts, credit scores, budgeting and their own net worth.
“Millennials are coming to this program with what we call low financial self-esteem,” Ford said. “One of our goals is to provide them with hope.”
Fewer than half of all employees nationwide believe their company cares about their financial well-being, Momentum onUp reports. Since the financial fitness program was implemented at SunTrust, 82 percent of employees now feel the company has their financial best interests at heart, compared with about 4 in 10 employees before the program started, Ford said.
3. Valuing Flexible Work
Providing work-life balance is another sought-after benefit among Millennials. Younger workers want to make up their own schedules rather than follow a rigid structure defined by an organization.
“They rally against the 9-to-5 workplace,” Weisbeck said. “They want to be judged by the outcomes of what they deliver and not by the hours they work.”
Millennials also seek more flexible leave policies, including both maternity and paternity leave, as they start families, Weisbeck said. And they additionally value leave that gives them the freedom to polish and improve their job skills, he adds.
These concerns track with Millennials being more likely to view themselves as being at the center of their careers, rather than revolving their careers around one company. “Millennials are building a personal brand,” Weisbeck said.
Employers are responding: Since 1996, three times as many companies now offer telecommuting, while 88 percent of companies pay for professional membership dues, according to SHRM.
In a changing workforce that’s dominated by Millennials, organizations must balance the cost of providing benefits against the improvements they gain in employee happiness and productivity.
“Whenever you can find that great combination, it’s going to be win-win,” Weisbeck said.