If you work for a medium-to-large organisation, you probably have a wide range of employees. Some of them might be in their early 20s, and just beginning their professional journeys. Others may be approaching retirement.
And ensuring that all of those employees feel supported, seen and understood is a big job. After all, the four generations that are currently represented in the workplace have very different needs, preferences and priorities.
The fact is, in today’s competitive landscape, a one-size-fits-all approach to employee benefits is no longer enough. Not if you want to stand out as an employer, attract top talent and retain your best people for longer, anyway.
But research from Mercer shows that most employers are missing the mark. In a recent global survey of more than 17,000 employees, only 59% said that the benefits they receive from their employer meet their needs.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into what really matters to each generation of employees. By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to build a benefits programme that works for every single member of your team, whether they’re 21 or 81.
The four generations in the workplace in 2024
Before jumping in, it’s probably a good idea to clarify what we mean when we talk about the different generations that are currently represented in the workforce.
After all, in a world where we’re constantly hearing ‘OK boomer’ jokes and references to lazy Millennials and their avocado toast, it’s easy to lose track of the people these words actually represent.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be using the definitions created by market research company Beresford Research, which have been cited in several newspapers and are generally pretty accepted.
Here they are:
- Baby Boomers: Born 1946–1964
- Generation X: Born 1965–1980
- Millennials: 1981–1996
- Generation Z: 1997–2012
And here are their approximate ages in 2024:
- Baby Boomers: 60–77
- Generation X: 44–59
- Millennials: 28–43
- Generation Z: 12–27
The best employee benefits for every generation
Before we start talking about the best benefits for each generation, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect science. Everyone is different, and you can’t define someone by their age group alone.
However, people do tend to go through similar life events at roughly the same age, and these experiences are pivotal in shaping what we need and expect from work. That means that while these suggestions won’t necessarily apply to every single one of your employees, there’s a good chance they’ll resonate with a lot of them.
So, let’s get to it — what benefits do employees of different generations actually want?
Benefits for Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers are the oldest generation in the workforce, with many of them approaching retirement over the next few years. But given that many countries around the world are still facing labour shortages, this experienced and qualified generation shouldn’t be ignored.
Naturally, their advanced age means that benefits like additional health insurance are likely to go down well with the Baby Boomer generation. But according to Forbes, this group also ranks flexible work options, paid time off and mental health support among their priorities.
Over the last few years, we’ve also seen some companies come up with innovative new benefits specifically tailored to this generation — especially in the US. For example, companies have implemented ‘snowbird programs’, which allow older workers to move seasonally between two different locations.
By allowing them to work somewhere with a warmer climate in the winter, employers can give their Baby Boomer employees the chance to ‘test-drive’ retirement — making for a smoother transition when they decide the time is right.
‘Grandternity leave’ is another unusual perk for older workers, which is supposedly being offered by companies including Cisco, Mercer and HireVue. It allows grandparents to take anything from a few days to a few weeks leave to welcome a new grandchild to the family and support their adult children.
Whether this will become a mainstream benefit remains to be seen — but it’s certainly a good way to show your older employees that you care about them and their families.
Benefits for Generation X
Currently in their mid-40s to late 50s, many Gen X employees are managing the dual tasks of raising children while also caring for elderly parents or relatives. So it makes sense that a lot of the specific benefits tailored to Gen X have to do with these caring responsibilities.
For example, Adobe offers a full package of benefits to parents of children of all ages, which includes help with childcare costs and assistance with their kids’ university admissions.
Other companies offer concierge services to help employees manage the administrative side of caring for elderly relatives, like finding suitable practitioners or facilities.
And there’s another benefit that’s growing in popularity, geared specifically towards Gen X women: menopause support. In the US, biotech giant Genentech has introduced benefits including on-demand video appointments with clinicians, classes on managing symptoms and referrals to in-person providers.
While this benefit is still rare in the UK (and elsewhere) it is growing: in an analysis of 25.9 million job ads in February 2023, Adzuna found 312 mentions of menopause-related benefits, compared to zero in 2022.
Benefits for Millennials
Though older generations still seem to think of Millennials as kids just out of university, the fact is that most of them are in their 30s and 40s. And according to Mercer data, 79% of Millennials consider themselves caregivers (compared to 60% of Gen Z and 47% of Baby Boomers).
That means that the growing cost of healthcare is a big concern for many Millennials — particularly those in the US. And employers can win over Millennial employees with healthcare coverage for them and their families.
A more unusual benefit that we’ve seen more and more of over the past few years, though, is help for those employees who are going through fertility treatments — who tend to be Millennials.
Some companies (like Figures client Birdie) offer their employees additional days of paid leave to support them with the pressure of going through fertility treatments. And others are going even further: Natwest, Centrica, Clifford Change and Cooley have all launched schemes in the UK that cover up to £45,000 in fertility treatments for their employees or their partners.
Benefits for Generation Z
Generation Z has grown up in the shadow of various financial crises, climate change and the pressures of social media — not to mention coming of age during a global pandemic. They’ve also been heavily affected by the rising cost of living, with one study suggesting that they have 86% less buying power than Baby Boomers did at the same age.
First of all, that means that Gen Z employees are likely to appreciate benefits that make their paycheques go further, like employee discounts, memberships and support paying off student loan debt.
But Gen Z are also more likely to be stressed or burned out, and more likely to have worked while feeling mentally unwell than other generations. Data from UK relationship support network Relate reveals that 83% of Gen Z are suffering from ‘milestone anxiety’ — pressure to reach life milestones like getting married or buying a house.
Given all of this, it’s no surprise that 82% of Gen Z respondents to another survey said they want a job that offers mental health days, and half said they wanted mental health training.
The Mercer study we mentioned above confirms this point of view, with 44% of Gen Z respondents saying they would like their employer to provide alternative mental health therapies, and 39% saying they would like virtual advice about anxiety, sadness and relationship issues.
Employee benefits in 2024: How to give everyone what they want
Given the different needs and priorities of every generation in the workforce, a rigid approach to benefits won’t cut it in 2024. Instead, employers should build their benefits offering on a flexible framework that promotes inclusivity and shows every employee that you see and value them as an individual.
Of course, there are some benefits — like generous leave packages and flexible work arrangements — that are probably beneficial to everyone. But beyond this, you won’t truly meet everyone’s needs if you don’t introduce some level of personalisation into your offering.
Practically speaking, this might mean giving each employee a spending account that they can use to fund the benefits they need, whether that’s time off for fertility treatments, mental health support or help caring for an older relative.
However you decide to do it, the fact is that this is what employees want in 2024. A recent survey of 1200 employees in the UK found that one in two would even be willing to accept a pay cut in exchange for benefits that meet their individual needs. And 69% said they would work harder for an employer that provided them.
Put simply, if you want to reap the rewards of a solid benefits offering — like increased retention, talent attraction and productivity, to name a few — you need to make sure that offering works for everyone — no matter which generation they belong to.