When we talk about customizing benefits in 2017, it has to be based on more than age alone. It means drilling down into the various segments of each of the generations in the workforce. 

In a thriving economy and positive job market, workers want more money and benefits, and they won’t hesitate to move to another company to secure a better offer. Employers must craft a strategic benefits package to compete in today’s talent marketplace. Voluntary benefits are at the forefront of this effort because they provide employees expanded choice and the ability to personalize their benefits package. 

Customizing benefits has been in vogue for a few years now. Everyone is focusing on the generations and their assumed preferences. However, within the generations, there are different personas that don’t fit the overall generalization. Unique personas are critical in employee benefits because of the vastly different needs of workforce populations. 

The new way to customize voluntary benefits goes beyond simply matching benefits to mainstream generational characteristics. It involves adding another level of segmentation — using eight specific employee personas based on lifestyle and buying preferences.  This additional segmentation provides a more informed method for employers to offer the voluntary benefits that are important to their workforce. 

Segmenting the generations 

A large portion of the population within the three primary generations — baby boomers, Generation X and millennials — fits the average description of that generation and can be classified as “mainstream.” But while they may fall within the same age group of one of those three generations, not all employees fit the lifestyle and buying preferences of that generation. 

The eight personas that further segment these generations are Content Boomer, Budget Living, Balanced Bliss, Savvy Starters, Flourishing Family, Urban Crew, Settled in the City and Cultural Mix. In some cases, a segment may transcend into a portion of the next generation. This chart illustrates how the segments line up within the generations. 

Benefits by purpose 

The segments’ varyied buying and lifestyle preferences dictate the benefits they prefer.  These differences are best illustrated in non-traditional voluntary benefit offerings

Looking at non-traditional voluntary benefits by purpose helps employers prioritize what is offered. Purposes can be classified as buying and banking options; lifestyle and convenience options; personal care and improvement options; and financial safety nets. 

  • Buying and banking benefits give employees alternative ways to save, spend or borrow. They help employees who are underserved by traditional financing options or who want access to services that aren’t generally available to them otherwise. These options include pay cards, short-term loans, employee purchase programs, employee discount programs, credit union and flexible spending accounts. 

  • Lifestyle and conveniencebenefits allow the employee to take advantage of cost savings that they wouldn’t get otherwise because they are accessing these benefits through their employer. Plus, by paying for these through payroll deduction, they have the convenience of one less bill to worry about. Among the lifestyle and convenience benefits are child care, elder care, pet insurance, auto insurance, adoption assistance, auto insurance, cyber security insurance and legal assistance.           

  • When employers offer personal care and improvement benefits, they show that they care about the whole employee while also encouraging them to be proactive about their physical, mental and financial health. Among the personal care and improvement benefits are financial counseling services, wellness programs, employee assistance programs and tuition assistance programs. 

  • Financial safety nets offer protection from financial crises that can be potentially devastating for employees. Included in this category are home warranty insurance, homeowner’s insurance, identity theft protection and long-term care insurance. 

Benefits in each of these categories can appeal to employees of all generations, depending on their priorities and demographics. Profiling the generations through the eight segments, however, shows a more distinctive differentiation. 

In an August 2016 Harris Poll on behalf of Purchasing Power® of 2,007 adults age 18 and older, respondents in each of the eight personas were asked to prioritize the categories of non-traditional benefits of most interest to them (#1 being first priority):  

Implications for employers and brokers 

While this process isn’t scientific, it does provide a more segmented view of employee lifestyles and benefits needs rather than lumping them all into one of three generations. It gives insight into the types of benefits the various employee segments believe to be the most valuable. 

This segmented approach can be helpful at benefits evaluation time. At the annual review when employers and brokers look at the benefit program to see what’s working and not working, be sure to evaluate in terms of the total employee population, as well as the segments. Are the benefits that these segments say are valuable available through the program? 

Refer to this information as well when considering future benefits. With voluntary benefits that are paid for by employees, it’s relatively easy to add benefits. When considering new benefit options, take a look at how current benefits line up with what these segments say are important, and look into adding non-traditional voluntary benefits that will make a difference to the workforce. 

Organizations that take customization of benefits to heart and embrace further segmentation of the generations will be able to structure their benefits in a way that will attract, retain and engage the talent they need for the future.