man leaning against dollar sign After identifying the different personas and demographics within the workplace, companies can put together a benefit package that includes options that reach the various groups. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Four out of five Americans have access to a retirement plan through their employer, but not many people are using their plans. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only a third of employees who have access to a retirement program are actively using it to save for their future.

It’s not that the plans aren’t effective, it’s that they’re not addressing employees’ specific financial needs.

Related: Your employees want their financial benefits to be more personal

By taking a different approach, offering employees benefits more relevant to their own needs, employers can make a bigger impact in both adoption rates and employee engagement.

Employee persona creation

Every employee journey is unique. The needs of younger employees may be more focused on paying down student loan debt, while some older employees may be getting ready for retirement. Unfortunately, providing a single financial benefit to meet every employees’ needs isn’t working.

To better address employees’ individual needs, organizations should take the time to create employee personas.

Personas are generalizations of a few different types of employees within an organization, broken up by demographics, psychographics, and personal goals.

Retail companies may find groups of employees focused on student loan repayments, while healthcare organizations may find their management teams looking for advice on sending their kids to college.

Using anonymous surveys, organizations can gain insights into the stresses, goals, and benefits preferences of their employees.

Persona examples

While every organization is unique, some common themes among employee personas include:

Millennials: Almost three quarters of millennials are not currently saving for their retirement. If an organization has many younger employees, management may be surprised to learn that demographic tends to be more concerned with keeping their current bills paid than saving for retirement.

This stems from the fact that 63 percent of millennials carry more than $10,000 in student loan debt, with an average debt load of $30,000 per person.

As companies build out employee personas, millenials and younger employees in general may be more focused on student loan repayment or starting a family than contributing to their retirement plan.

Low-wage workers: Low-wage workers are also likely not using their retirement benefits.

Entry-level and part-time workers face similar financial burdens as their coworkers, but their salary structure makes it increasingly difficult to make headway. While saving for retirement may be on their radar, 50 percent of low-wage workers work for organizations with fewer than 10 employees and without traditional health and wellness benefits.

This translates into many workers struggling to pay for health care costs out of pocket, alongside managing childcare and other traditional expenses.

After identifying the different personas and demographics within the workplace, companies can put together a benefit package that includes options that reach the various groups. There may not be one benefit that works for all employees, but the goal should be to offer a variety of benefit options that address the needs of the different demographics.

Examples of targeted benefits

The need for more targeted employee benefits hasn’t gone unnoticed. Some benefits providers like Gusto and Gradifi are rethinking how employers can administer their employee benefits to better address employee needs.

Gusto Gusto is rethinking payroll processing with Flexible Pay, a new service that lets employees withdraw their paychecks on their own schedule. Getting paid every two weeks no longer makes sense for many employees. Having the flexibility to withdraw money as they earn their wages, daily or weekly, allows employees to avoid the predatory loan practices of payday lenders and avoid unnecessary debt long-term, which is especially important for low-wage workers.

Gradifi Gradifi helps employees pay down their student loans faster by giving employers the tools to administer and monitor student loan repayment. Student loan repayment benefits have helped employees pay down their loans 30 percent faster than paying them by themselves. Employers are leveraging services like Gradifi to offer student loan repayment as an employee benefit.

Some employees spend half the time they’re at work feeling stressed about financial and personal issues. As employers rethink benefits plans, providing more targeted guidance and resources to employees will not only create happier and healthier employees, it can create long-term boosts to the bottom line.

Different messaging for different groups

In addition to offering more targeted benefits to employees as companies understand their different needs and goals, HR managers can also send targeted messaging to those employee groups to better engage them.

For some employees, email communication is still the most effective way to communicate, while other groups may prefer periodic text reminders or posters around the office for open enrollment.

Employee personas will shed light on the type of messaging employees will respond to most and help companies craft custom communications for each employee group to boost engagement and adoption rates with benefits. For example, employees planning on starting a family soon might appreciate an open-enrollment reminder about changing their health plans.


Chris Whitlow is the founder and CEO of Edukate, a workplace financial wellness platform with a mission to give every person access to expert financial guidance.