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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Benefits for all

In today’s multi-generational workplace, it’s important to understand your employees’ needs at whatever stage they are in life, and ensure your benefits structure caters for everyone, says Mark Taylor.

Employee benefits play a key role in improving engagement, performance and productivity and attracting key talent to your organisation. Remuneration and benefit discussions are now a common topic in any organisation and any industry looking to compete in an era where the only constant in an organisations talent strategy is change.

Perhaps the biggest struggle for the modern organisation is understanding employees’ needs, where they are in their life journey, and ensuring that the company’s “one size fits all” benefit structure caters for the majority of their people.

Navigating employees’ needs and health and wellness demands can be complex, as is understanding how employees could benefit in the event of an unfortunate health event. As lifestyle related illness such as cancer, diabetes and mental illness increase, HR professionals, senior leadership and board directors, have an ever increasing responsibility to look after their employees.

Thomsons’ recent thought leadership white paper based on research of over 2000 global employees, Expectations and Reality: The Widening Gap in Global Benefits, showed that employers who assist employees’ short-term needs and life goals, by providing a variety of both mandatory and voluntary benefits at a complete level of funding, see an increased level of overall engagement scores versus those who deliver the minimum level of employee benefits.

Employee advocacy and an increased level of employee engagement will help drive your business and create positive outcomes for your teams, including talent retention, business performance and productivity.

As 60 percent of absenteeism is illness related, not accident related, and therefore not covered by any financial contribution from ACC, it is important to realise that an employee benefits programme will assist your staff through health events that drastically affect the lives of the employee and their immediate family.

Many employers feel they have a moral obligation to take the next step and ensure that the person sitting next to them in their office or worksite is looked after. This is the true value of an employee benefit programme as it protects the people who ultimately protect your business.

Today’s workforce consists of three rather polarising cross-generational populations: Millennials (Gen Y), Generation X (Gen X) and Baby Boomers. In order to formulate any benefit strategy, it is important to understand what is important to these three generations and what they will be looking to achieve both in their work environment, and personal lives.


Millennials now make up a third of the New Zealand workforce, but this will be more than 50 percent by 2025. They are a health-conscious generation, and therefore place an increasing interest on preventative health measures and their overall wellbeing. They’re also typically overly ambitious, wanting to achieve their goals and attain financial security quickly in comparison to past generations. This expectation could be why one in five young workers experience on-the-job depression, compared to only 16 percent of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Millennials are a consumer-led generation, looking for both flexibility and a modulated approach to benefits. They appreciate being able to choose their own offerings and shape benefits to suit their own individual circumstances, which leads to traditional benefits programmes being viewed as constraining. Millennials seek health insurance benefits from their employer, with the implementation of “paid for base plans”, and the ability to add family members, or pay for additional top-up covers.

As they look to purchase their first home and start a family, income protection also becomes increasingly important, as young Mllennial families may be dropping to one income temporarily. In addition to health insurance and income protection, Millennials value assistance types of products in relation to health and wellness, with the flexibility in their working hours, with more holidays and volunteering opportunity being valued highly.


The Gen X group doesn’t often receive the same attention as Millennials and Baby Boomers; however, if Gen X represents a major portion of your staff, it is important their needs are realised and managed differently. As the average childbearing age increases, many Gen X are typically raising young children, or have older children living at home who don’t have the financial security yet to leave the family nest. This demographic has been referred to as KIPPERS (Kids in Parents Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings) and, as the housing market tightens in parallel with the cost of education, children are staying at home much longer.

Gen X will find themselves very much in the middle of two generations under the same roof. Elderly grandparents may also be living within the same society. For this particular demographic, employers must re-think the make-up of their benefits by increasing access to health insurance, along with group income protection and life insurance policies. As many Gen X are the majority income earners within the home, supporting multiple generations of family, benefits are playing an ever-increasing role in their employment choices.


Baby Boomers are the post Second World War generation—often they’ve done very well financially out of the New Zealand housing market and would generally hold the largest proportion of wealth throughout New Zealand society. Figures from Statistics NZ show that just under a quarter of people aged 65 or over (about 168,000) are currently in the workforce. This is up from just nine percent in 1986 when about 30,000 people worked beyond 65 years.

The majority of group insurance policies, including life insurance and income protection, cease at 65 years of age as they have historically been designed to lapse at retirement age—when it is assumed that employees will retire and move onto the government funded pension. As we’ve seen in other western economies, the retirement age and access to government pension will increase gradually from 65 to 67; a trend that we predict New Zealand will follow shortly. This legislation change, in parallel with modern medicine, increasing financial commitments and healthier living means that many Baby Boomers are choosing to stay in the workforce longer.

A higher number of older workers also indicates that a higher proportion of the workforce is likely to have more health problems—mobility issues being the most common for people aged over 65. This changing trend, and retirement happening later, means that traditional benefit packages that predominately tailor to those less than 65 years of age need a refresh, as many will become inadequate for Baby Boomers in the workforce.

Generally, an adequate Baby Boomer employee benefit package will consist of health insurance plans along with income protection, critical illness and life policies. We often find that older workers have an interest in tailored exercise programmes, as well as health and wellbeing seminars, with financial security discussions and health checks being of key interest.


A common issue within any modern organisation is internal communication, not just how people communicate within departments, but how management and HR leaders communicate with their teams and deliver key messages throughout the organisations. Employee benefits can often be listed in the small print of employment contracts, or be given just a five minute slot in employee induction.

Organisations need to continually revamp their communication strategy in relation to employee benefits to ensure it’s kept fresh and that employees understand the range of benefits they receive and how they could benefit if a crisis was to occur. If employees don’t know what benefits are offered, and can’t access them easily, it is impossible to deliver their true value. It is important that benefits should be visible to all employees throughout the entire employment journey.

Employers should try and leverage technology solutions at all times to communicate their given benefit strategy. Group intranets are a great repository and should also provide clear instructions as to how family members could also benefit from savings from the employee’s benefits and who the key benefits contacts are within your organisation.

It’s also important to try and make the communications fun and engaging, such as fitness programmes at New Year and access to retail discounts or preferred supplier arrangements. If you’re sending email marketing campaigns, choose timeframes in your organisations where you know emails will be read, and use a campaign monitor to analyse your readership levels. If employees know what benefits they have, where they can find them, and understand their value—your communication strategy is working!

Business growth relies on engaging and empowering your workforce. Employers who can quickly adapt to change and have a democratic culture that embraces their unique workforce will thrive. Benefits are not only used to drive engagement, performance and productivity, but are designed to really help people in times of need.

If structured correctly and communicated in a manner which is suitable for a team, benefits are worth the investment. Offering choice and flexibility for all employees is pivotal, as not all benefits are designed to fulfil the “one size fits all” approach. Each generation has different wants and needs depending on where they are on their life journey, so it’s important that employers listen to their staff and understand where they fit on this spectrum.

Employee benefits play a crucial role in influencing future employees’ choices, engagement and, ultimately, retention. It is therefore critical that HR leaders and management understand the short- and long-term needs of a multi-generational workforce.

MARK TAYLOR is an employee benefits specialist at Mercer Marsh Benefits. For more information contact

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