The Journal Gazette
Sunday, July 08, 2018 1:00 am

Changing times require fresh look at benefits

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

From paternalistic to popular. That's the kind of shift employers might need to consider when deciding what benefits to offer.

Benefits were designed for a workforce that doesn't exist any longer, says Chris Bruce, co-founder and managing director of Thomson's online benefits. Most employees, for example, don't keep the same job for life. 

A growing number of employees will be interested in how employers can support them in varied areas that go beyond the traditional health or life insurance. And they are more prone to want access to benefits information online.

The work world has shifted in the past 20 to 25 years, but the approach to benefits hasn't kept up. Instead, it's rather archaic, Bruce said during a late June webinar on “What Your Employees Really Want From Reward and Benefits.”

Thomson's Global Employee Benefits Watch employee survey was conducted in the first quarter and additional data for its research findings was reported from the Online Benefits, Global Employee Benefits Watch Report 2017/18, in which 441 global HR and reward professionals from multinational organizations responded to an online questionnaire. The full 2018/2019 report will be released in September.

In 1995, baby boomers comprised about half the workforce, but by 2025, that generation will represent less than 10 percent of it, said Bruce, who presented the webinar with Kim Macdonald, who leads Thomson's analytics and innovation team.

Technology will disrupt the workplace, which will be dominated by younger generations accustomed to a high level of social media and easy access to information, Bruce said.

Employers should also give more thought to the “emotion that goes with the benefit” offered, he said. Employees desire a more personal touch.

Research, for example, showed 57 percent of employees want support in improving their mental well being, but only 23 percent of employees feel supported in that area, Bruce said. Forty-five percent want support in sorting their personal finances, but only 20 percent of employees feel fully supported.

Younger employees are also interested in starting a family, traveling, buying a house, socializing and caring for elderly relatives.

Eighty-one percent of employees who can easily access their benefits said they feel loyal to their employer as opposed to 51 percent who find it hard to access their benefits, Macdonald said. And 79 percent of employees who can easily access their benefits said they were proud to work for their employer as opposed to 37 percent who find it hard to access their benefits, he said.

Employees who feel more supported are more engaged.

Eighty percent of employees who said they had a good variety of benefits to choose from said they identified strongly with their organization's vision and values as opposed to 40 percent of those who didn't have a good variety of benefits, Macdonald said.

Seventy-nine percent of employees who had a good variety of benefits to choose from said they would recommend their employer to a friend as opposed to 36 percent of those who didn't have a good variety of benefits.

Not paying attention to these concerns, Macdonald said, is giving employees “strong incentive to disengage.”

Employers have to carefully gauge whether they are meeting employee needs now and for the shifting workforce. And that's not always easy, Macdonald said, because “human behavior is complex” and you have to “crack the code.”

Traditionally, employers may have gauged success with benefits and other offerings based on factors such as leadership and human resources staff perspectives, feedback from focus groups and employee surveys. That's based on what people say. A better measurement, according to the webinar, is what people do. In other words, watch factors including employee enrollment in programs and benefits, overall engagement, turnover and benefit utilization.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at

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