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Know your Audience: 5 Tips for Identifying Employee Benefits Needs

Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on August 15, 2017 10:30 AM

When it comes to designing an effective benefits program, it all begins with knowing your audience.  But that’s not an easy task for HR professionals today, who are responsible for meeting the needs of five generations in the workforce - all within a rapidly changing workplace and an increasingly competitive market.  

Gaining a clear understanding of who your employees are and what they need is an ongoing process, a building and maintaining of a complex composite that moves beyond the simple collection of demographics and numbers provided by your insurance partners. It requires an awareness, achieved over time, of the varied life stages and individual challenges your workforce may be facing. 

Where to begin? Here are five tips for better identifying the unique, evolving needs of ALL your employees. 

  1. Understand What Each Generation Wants

    Defining and providing benefits by generation is a complex task.  Research shows that each group has its core priorities, based heavily on life stages – but there’s also overlap.  The challenge lies in providing personalized options under the umbrella of a unified plan. 

    Outside of standard medical benefits, Generation Z is looking for things like pet care, tuition assistance, unlimited PTO and professional development opportunities.  Millennials are also interested in these benefits, but expressing increased interest in sabbatical and work-life integration programs, along with fertility and adoption benefits. And with more than a million Millennial women becoming new moms each year,  they’re also looking for paid family leave, flexible work arrangements, child care and household help, along with financial planning for the future.

    Generation X, many of whom are also part of the Sandwich Generation facing care responsibilities for both children and aging parents, are looking for the whole package: paid family leave, flexibility, child and household care, greater financial counseling, estate planning and senior care.  Baby Boomers and Traditionals are focused more on senior care and estate planning, along with discount programs and group auto and long-term care insurance options.

    While specific medical and financial needs vary by generation, the common thread for all is family care – be it child care, pet care, adult and senior care or housekeeping services.  And while research may dictate what’s emerging as standard for each group, your best source of information will always be your employees. 

  2. Evaluate the Market
    There's no shortage of data available to us today.  The challenge is in finding what’s most applicable to your organization, and transforming that data into meaningful insights that will shape a valuable benefits program.  

    When evaluating the market, seek and further filter information down to those specific elements that are relevant to your organization and most important, your unique employees.  Your goal in this process is to translate pertinent data into easily-digested nuggets of information for your workforce.  Communicate how your organization has shaped its benefits package to meet both employee needs - and to be competitive in the marketplace.

  3. Survey your Employees

    Online surveys, using tools like SurveyGizmo and SurveyMonkey, are one of the more popular formats for gathering data and feedback from your employees.  But, it’s important to combine survey data with other communication methods and forums, including:

    • Individual conversations or small group meetings: Identify employees from different parts of the organization and in different life phases for candid and planned discussions.
    • In-person or virtual town-hall forums: Seeing other employees share feedback or ask questions may encourage others to join in the discussion, too.
    • Quick polls and online chats using tools like Slack or Skype.
    • Directly soliciting input (through email, phone or in-person meetings) at a timely or transitional moment like pre- or post-leave, during a promotion or major organizational change.  

    This regular, ongoing gathering of varied quantitative and qualitative information will give you the most accurate, balanced view of your employees.

  4. Communicate and Confirm with your Employees
    Put a system of checks and balances in place when it comes to ensuring effective communication with your employees. Confirm that the information gathered in surveys or through other methods is accurate, valuable and reflective of your  workforce.  

    One of the ways confirms the information they collect and conclusions they draw are correct is through a Survey Advisory Group.  This group represents approximately twenty diverse employees across all five workforce generations, from every division of the organization. These individuals are experiencing varied life phases, and can speak directly to the benefits and support they need most.  The group comes together on a regular basis throughout the year, and helps evaluate data from surveys, provide additional information and in-person insight – oftentimes in new areas. Overall, they further enlighten and humanize survey findings.  

  5. Enlist HR Champions 

    HR champions serve as powerful ground troops – loyal, effective messengers between HR and employees.  Not only can they collect and convey key information to leadership, but they can also serve as value proposition ambassadors, helping employees better understand the meaning and relevance of your benefits – and the decisions behind them.  These champions need to have both accurate information from HR, as well as the language and vocabulary to articulate those value propositions.

    Both managers and members of a Survey Advisory Group can serve as effective champions. They help provide additional, timely explanation to peers who may be questioning or needing a deeper understanding of company policies and benefits.  And many employees are naturally drawn to the ease, comfort and trust that comes with turning to a familiar co-worker.  There’s nothing more powerful than the dissemination of accurate information, particularly personal testimonials of benefits usage, than that which occurs between employees. 

    Creating an effective benefits program requires HR to be skilled and knowledgeable in many areas.  But no amount of training or research will ever replace the value of listening to employees in the process – and understanding that when it comes to identifying their needs there’s only one constant: change.

    This post is the first in a five-part series based on the Care@Work Webinar:  Always the Right Fit – Benefits Through the Employee Experience, exploring how to attract, retain and engage your multi-generational employees. 

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.