Keys to attracting and retaining millennials: Their No. 1 want may surprise you

Attracting and retaining top talent is more challenging than ever. Employment is up — U.S. unemployment is at a 10-year low (falling to 4.4 percent this year) and aging baby boomers are reaching retirement age and exiting the workforce. In fact, the percentage of working-age Americans in the labor force has dropped to 62.9 percent, near a 40-year low.

One way that businesses can attract employees is to understand their needs and provide a portfolio of benefits that are customized to the employees’ stage of life. Additionally, businesses that empower employees to understand and effectively use their health care and retirement benefits can create a competitive advantage.

Here are four tips for using employee benefits to help build and sustain a strong workforce.

  1. Appeal to millennials

First, review your strategies for targeting different age groups. According to a recent survey by Glassdoor, employees ages 18- 44 prefer benefits or perks to pay raises, compared with those ages 45-64. Employers want to hire millennials, who are poised to climb the career ladder and fill the ranks of exiting baby boomers. Contrary to popular myth, millennials crave job security as much as any generation prior to them. Qualtrics’ Millennial Study reported that 77 percent would be willing to take a salary cut in exchange for long-term job security. In addition, 64 percent of millennials say benefits are extremely or very important to employer loyalty.

  1. Help employees understand and adjust to new health care options

Some companies are adopting consumer-driven or high-deductible health care plans, with many pairing these with health savings accounts or health reimbursement arrangements to keep employee costs low. As employees adopt these solutions, they’ll need the right tools to understand and use their health plans. Interest in health savings accounts has picked up among millennials, but only 50 percent are confident they have a strong understanding of their employee benefits. Consider new ways to increase their knowledge by offering education year-round, not only during the enrollment cycle.

  1. Track changing legislation

In addition to updating internal benefit policies, it’s important to track changing health care and retirement plan legislation, as it may have far-reaching implications for how employee benefits are administered. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 96 percent of firms with 50 or more full-time employees offered at least one plan that would meet the Affordable Care Act’s minimum value and affordability requirements. This year, Congress passed a two-year delay of the 40 percent excise tax (or “Cadillac Tax”) imposed by the Affordable Care Act on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans. This change underscores the need to be aware of legislative activity.

  1. Encourage informed decisions by promoting financial wellness programs and tools A strong financial wellness program can empower employees and build loyalty to the firm. Take time to educate employees about the potential impact of major life events and how to prepare for and estimate the financial impact of future events to minimize the impact on other aspects of their lives.

The Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2017 Workplace Benefits Report found that the No. 1 issue for employees is saving for retirement. Only one-third of employees are engaged with 401(k) plans — contributing 11 percent or more of their salary to their plan. To encourage better financial habits, 85 percent of employers plan to utilize a financial wellness program. Companies are expanding their educational resources to help inform employee retirement and health care decisions. These efforts include online financial/investment advice, group/classroom education and one-on-one support. Consider implementing additional support services and programs, or fully optimize your existing ones to engage employees and encourage positive actions.

Companies invest an enormous amount of resources in employee benefits, but, without proper education and understanding, may not receive the full value of these benefits. Offering robust plans and ensuring employees have the tools they need to make informed decisions can help you build a strong, sustainable workforce. Through education and financial wellness programs, companies can not only help employees to fully utilize benefits, they can build greater employee appreciation and loyalty as employees increasingly understand and exercise their benefits.