Will Unique Benefits Capture Millennials in Talent War?

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By Genevieve Douglas

Employers are looking beyond traditional hiring bonuses and benefits in hopes that more unusual perks will better attract top talent.

“We are seeing an explosion of new benefits and unique benefits” that companies are testing to try to attract new employees, and more specifically, millennials, Andrew Challenger, vice president of workplace consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told Bloomberg BNA June 29. In today’s tight hiring environment, a lot of candidates are getting multiple job offers, and sometimes employee perks put a company over the top in terms of getting the best person, he said.

One-third of over 3,200 HR professionals surveyed this year by the Society for Human Resource Management have increased their organization’s overall benefit offerings, Tanya Mulvey, SHRM researcher and lead author of its annual benefits survey, told Bloomberg BNA July 5. Although that number is consistent with findings from last year’s report, employers are doubling down on the idea that these benefits will make them more competitive, Mulvey said. “They hope these benefits will help with recruitment and retention of top performers,” she added.

Beyond title, salary, and bonuses, “benefits have become a leading decision-making factor for a lot of millennials,” Michele Bell, vice president of partnerships at family benefits provider Cognoa, told Bloomberg BNA July 5. In some cases, prospective employees may even take a lower salary for more robust benefits, and that is changing the benefits landscape, she said.

Innovation in Flexibility, Wellness

SHRM found that innovative benefits in health and wellness top the list of growing benefits, “which isn’t surprising given how important health care is to employees,” she said. But employees also value flexibility and leave, and employers are exploring new ways to provide those benefits, Mulvey said.

SHRM found that in the realm of flexibility, some employers are looking into offering four-day workweeks of 32 hours or less (13 percent). The survey also revealed that 62 percent of employers allow some type of telecommuting, and 57 percent offer flextime, allowing employees to choose their work hours within established limits. The biggest change for flexible work benefits was an increase in telecommuting on an ad hoc basis (59 percent) over the past five years, SHRM said.

On the wellness front, companies are looking into gym memberships and other benefits to get employees working on their fitness, Challenger said. In particular, the gamification of wellness programs, and creating competition may attract the type of employee organizations are looking for, he added. Examples of those types of benefits include paying the registration for 5K or 10K races and creating Fitbit competitions for employees with a gift card or free lunch for winners, he said.

One benefit regaining popularity is the sabbatical, Challenger said, because it can be beneficial to both employers and employees. “Companies want to attract the type of people that are well rounded, and have interests and passions outside of their day-to-day work,” according to Challenger. “This particular benefit really speaks to those individuals.”

Benefits and Culture Entwined

In today’s employment landscape, the way an organization structures benefits, especially unique benefits, ultimately determines the type of culture a workplace has, Chris Whitlow, chief executive officer of financial wellness benefits provider Edu(k)ate, told Bloomberg BNA July 3. Culture is what is truly attracting millennials to the workplace, and benefits play a key role in how an organization defines its culture, he said.

For example, financial wellness tools are gaining popularity as alternatives to traditional savings mechanisms, Whitlow said, including tuition reimbursement programs and debt management services. Overall, millennials need programs “that help with the complexity of these financial challenges,” according to Whitlow.

All of these benefits play into how companies manage the overall stress of employees, Whitlow said. “The more that we do those things and encourage those things,” the more people are going to feel comfortable at work. “Ultimately you’ll have a much better workplace” if you can reduce employee stress, he said.

Another example of benefits influencing corporate culture is in the family leave and family benefits realm, Bell of Cognoa said. HR is looking at family planning benefits, child care benefits, and fertility benefits, she said. These are not only better for attracting millennial workers, but they also reduce the stigma of child care for women in the workplace, Bell said.

“When you offer benefits in these spaces you de-stigmatize some of these very real life challenges people have, especially working parents,” she said. “I feel a shift overall that culture is even more a part of the conversation, and creating an inclusive environment is more important than ever.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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