How to attract and retain talent with the right benefits

Multiple generations in the workforce simultaneously can make benefits a tricky issue for attracting and retaining top talent

With multiple generations in the workforce at the same time -- Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers -- it can be tricky to navigate benefits offerings when recruiting and hiring talent. But ignoring the issue could leave businesses without a crucial tool for attracting and retaining top talent.

One size fits none

"Between Baby Boomers, Gen-X and Gen-Y and now Millennials, there are so many differing expectations and needs when it comes to benefits," says Chris Duchesne, Vice President of Workplace Solutions, Care.com. "And the fact is, there's been significant change in the employee-company 'contract'; no longer are pensions a standard offering, and that means many employees can only expect to take advantage of benefits offerings for between three and five years, so you have to make sure your compensation and benefits offerings are enough to justify the levels of engagement and productivity you want," says Duchesne.

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With an average of three to five years to 'make it count,' and with drastically different generational needs, a one-size-fits-all approach isn't the best way to deal with benefits, says Duchesne. It's important to focus on personalization to the extent you can when deciding which benefits to offer, to whom and how to provide access and information about those benefits, he says.

According to the 12th annual U.S. Employee Benefits Trends study from MetLife, published in 2013, 80 percent of respondents say they want benefits that meet and address their evolving needs as they age, and that generally track with their three, five and ten-year career plans, according to the study. Care.coms own survey of nearly one thousand of its clients revealed that employees want autonomy and discretion when deciding how to use their available benefits, Duchesne says, regardless of age or generation.

Customization is key

"What's consistent across all these generations is that they want benefits that are customized for their needs at different ages, that grow and change with them," he says. And employees also seem to want to select benefits packages themselves and have control over how money is spent on those benefits, Duchesne says, especially the younger demographic in the workforce.

"When we ask employees if they would be interested in an 'a la carte' approach to benefits, where they'd have control over a benefits budget that they could allocate as they pleased, we see within the 18 to 25-year-old demographic that nearly 80 percent would take advantage of that," he says. "It's similar to the iTunes model - you don't buy ten albums for the specific songs you want, you buy each individual song, and that resonates with the younger generations," he says. But as the workforce ages, he says, their benefits needs change to include childcare, backup care, and elder care, Duchesne says.

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"We see an increase in demand for childcare resources and backup care resources among the 20 to 45-year-old demographic," Duchesne says. "And among the 46-year-old-and-up demographic, they want resources to help them care for an aging family member. What this translates to in general is a need to help them resolve conflict in their home life so they're more productive and successful in their work life," he says. Duchesne adds that while more than 50 percent of Care.com survey respondents reported having these kinds of issues, most were reluctant to discuss them at work for fear of not seeming engaged or committed enough to their job.

"Offering these benefits, even if they're not specifically asked for, can help employees successfully navigate the tricky work-life balance conundrum and make them not just more productive, but more engaged with your company and more loyal and likely to stay," he says.

That means a comprehensive, customized benefits package can be a great tool for businesses to attract and retain top talent, says Duchesne.

Using benefits to attract and retain talent

"If you're not offering benefits in line with your employees' needs and their work-life balance challenges, you're missing an opportunity," he says. "You can attract and retain great talent much more easily if they feel you care about them enough to provide customized solutions that address their needs," he says.

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"Are benefits important when trying to attract talent? Yes," says Matt Ripaldi, Senior Vice President at Modis. "But benefits are just as important when trying to retain that talent. If you offer a great salary, that's fantastic, and you might hook some folks for the short-term. But if the benefits and work-life balance don't align with that person's long-term needs, they'll go somewhere with a lower salary but better benefits," Ripaldi says.

In the current IT talent war, companies have to adapt to candidates' and employees' individual needs and be flexible when aligning benefits with their business goals, he says.

"It's important that benefits be talked about at the front-end of the process, rather than just sticking it at the back end of a recruiting and hiring process," Ripaldi says. "It's not just a pay-rate conversation. Companies want to use benefits offerings to start conversations and share more information about what they offer and how that can benefit employees," he says.

Read more about careers in CIO's Careers Drilldown.

This story, "How to attract and retain talent with the right benefits" was originally published by CIO.

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