What Millennials Want vs What HR Thinks Millennials Want [Exclusive Survey Results]

If you were to guess the No. 1 benefit millennial employees would prize over all the others, what would you think they’d select?

Student loan repayment? Remote working?

We surveyed 1,000 millennials to find out, asking them to rate 15 job perks/benefits, including everything from health insurance and 401(k) plans to free snacks and gym memberships. Then we surveyed 1,000 HR professionals to see how well they could predict what millennials would say. We saw some surprising results.

Key Findings
  1. Millennials rated health insurance the #1 most important benefit.  HR professionals predicted millennials would have chosen flexible work schedules.
  2. Our survey found Millennials deprioritizing student loan repayment benefits, putting the perk closer to the bottom of their list (9 out of 15), while HR pros thought it would be rated #4.
  3. Contrary to what HR professionals think, millennials do value retirement plans, since 401(k)/pension plans ranked high on the millennials list (#4) and lower on HR’s list (#8).
  4. Millennials want a strong, surprisingly traditional benefits package – namely, health insurance (#1), paid time off (#2), and retirement funding (#4).
  5. Both male and female millennials want the exact same top 6 benefits – namely, health insurance, paid time off, flexible schedule, 401(k), annual bonus, and training and development. But differ when it comes to maternity/paternity paid leave, which females rated higher (#7 vs. #9).

Millenials HR benefits desired

Benefits That Make The Difference

The benefit millennials want most is in line with what employees of all ages want – health insurance, according to the survey. This will probably surprise most HR professionals, since those surveyed rated health insurance as No. 5.

So, what do HR professionals think millennials, who now make up a third of their workforce, want most? A flexible work schedule, which ranked No. 3 on the millennials’ list.

Besides health insurance, millennials seek other standard benefits – retirement plans and vacation days. However, the younger generation’s interest extends beyond those common employee concerns.

That means in addition to these top benefits, other more modern-age offerings – such as student loan repayment, paid maternity leave, and training and development – can make the difference whether millennials will stay with their current employer.

Millennials tend to move towards the more traditional “things” they expect from employers as their work and personal lives evolve.  The difference as compared to the Boomers is that the professional growth and development is more centage stage and higher as a priority.

Bob Verchota, Founder and Senior Consultant at RPVerchota& Associates

Millennial Top Must-Haves

Job Benefits ranked by percentage based on millennial survey

More than half (52%) of the millennials surveyed said health insurance is their number one choice. But one thing companies need to keep in mind is that millennials – those born between 1982 and 2000 – grew up in the digital age. To them, health care needs to be administered with speed, convenience and transparency. And that means adding health tech to the mix wherever possible.

In addition to health benefits, millennials expect paid time off (45%) and a flexible work schedule (38%).

When company’s offer flexible hours and PTO to their employees, Millennial’s feel heard and understood by their company. When employees feel heard and understood, they are happier and produce better work.

Amelie Karam, Speaker and Consultant on Millenials

A third of millennials (33%) say a 401(k) plan is also a must-have. Smart employers can assist millennials in budgeting and saving for future expenses by providing financial wellness programs, or, better yet, helping them to repay student loans by offering a matching 401(k) program.

Millennials Gender Divide?

Is there a gender divide when it comes to millennials in the workplace? Not when it comes to their most important benefit choices.

Male and female millennials seem to be in fundamental agreement when it comes to their essential work priorities, and the fact they chose the same exact top 6 benefits – 1) health insurance, 2) paid time off, 3) flexible schedule, 4) retirement plan, 5) annual bonus, and 6) training and development) –  is not surprising.

However, there are some differences beyond their core benefit choices, and these differences seem to align with more traditional male and female roles: Female millennials said maternity/paternity paid leave had more importance to them (No. 7 vs. No. 9), while males said profit sharing (No. 8 vs. No. 11) is more important than maternity/paternity leave, which males rated No. 9.

The Millennial Mindset

While the results of our millennial survey may reveal some surprises to HR professionals, one thing is clear: These young professionals (ages 24-37) understand the value of employee benefits. That’s why we believe understanding the millennial mindset is key to helping HR professionals better serve this emerging group.

We offer a few insights into the millennial employee mindset:

  • Millennials have been dubbed the “anxious generation.” Every generation is shaped by its circumstances and millennials are no different. They’ve lived through a lot of financial crisis – high unemployment, the rising cost of student debt and job uncertainty. That’s why they gravitate toward more traditional benefits.
  • Millennials seek opportunities for growth. They need to visualize a career trajectory – where their career is going and exactly what to do to get there. That’s why training and development opportunities are important to them.
  • Millennials want a work/life balance. Expecting them to keep a 9-5 workday schedule is not a reality anymore. Flexible work schedules are a priority, as well as opportunities to work remotely. Using mobile-friendly devices is a priority.

Key Takeaways for a Millennial-Friendly Workplace

Employers would be wise to take note and take action to millennials’ top choices for benefits, particularly as they try to attract and retain employees in this tight job market. Here are some key takeaways for HR and benefits managers, as they strategize their benefits package for 2020 and beyond:

No. 1: Make different healthcare decisions

Health insurance is the most important benefit to millennials, as our survey indicated, but at the same time, debt-ridden millennials are worried about costs. So that means employers need to consider comprehensive health care that reduces out-of-pocket expenses for millennials, and that means including dental and vision in the plan.

That’s why we believe high-deductible insurance plans that have a lower premium would be preferable to money-minded millennials.

Cost-effective care is a priority for this younger generation. Employers may need to make some necessary changes in order to cater to this important group. For instance, millennials are not used to waiting, often using “Google” to self-diagnose before heading to a doctor’s appointment. They also expect shorter wait times, so employers might make it easier to “doctor shop” for services, get online appointments and visit providers via telemedicine.

Millennials would also appreciate the flexibility of a health savings accounts to offset some of their out-of-pocket expenses.

No. 2: More paid time off?

If your paid time off (PTO) plan works like most, the longer people stay with the company, the more vacation time they earn. But with the influx of millennials into the workforce, this setup may not be working as effectively anymore.

Since millennials tend to leave a job within two years, employers may need to boost their PTO policy or risk losing millennials to a company with more flexible and generous policies. Some companies have had success with allowing employees to purchase extra time, not just waiting to accrue more.

No. 3: Become more flexible

A low unemployment rate means high expectations for job-seeking millennials, who rated a flexible schedule as No. 3 in our survey (and remote work options as No. 7). That’s the new norm.

In other words, giving employees a flexible schedule is not something employers can put off. They need to accommodate younger employees who expect a certain amount of work-life balance in a workweek so they can leave early to pick up their kids at school or carve out time to take a yoga class.

For HR, that means taking a look at job openings and identifying which jobs are eligible for flexible schedules and if any adjustments need to be made to accommodate a flex schedule.

No. 4: Learn about student loan benefits

While student loan repayment did not rate as high as employers thought it would, it certainly should not be discounted by employers, since it still rated in their top 10 benefits – it came in as No. 9 in our survey. And many in the industry are calling it the “next 401(k).”

With so many more student loan options and an emerging group of third party administrators offering a myriad of options available to employers, smart employers should seriously consider adding this perk in the next year or two.

If repayment is too costly, student debt assistance would rank with millennials, as well as allowing employees to trade off PTO for student debt, as more and more firms are offering.

No. 5: Offer financial wellness to boost 401(k)s

Even though there’s a lot of focus on student loans benefits, it doesn’t mean millennials are not planning for the future. It’s important to this generation, since they rated it No. 4.

Focus on financial wellness when helping your younger professionals fund their retirement plan. Employers might ask their provider to hold education sessions, or Lunch & Learns, focusing on what a younger employee should be doing and where they should be in terms of 401(k) balances. Coordinating these sessions with end of year salary increases might increase contributions.

No. 6: Customize parental leave benefits

With more and more employers upping their parental leave policies, it’s fast becoming a must-have benefit. While fully paid maternity and paternity leave may not be in the budget for smaller employers, there are other options to create benefits to help millennials feel valued and more likely to be loyal longer term.

An employer might offer an employee two weeks of paid leave, followed by six weeks of unpaid leave and the promise that the job will be waiting for her. If still too costly, employers can show they value their employees by finding ways to be more flexible, such as part-time return to work, flex time or work-from-home arrangements.

No. 7: Train, develop and upskill

Offering training and professional development opportunities could play a key role in retaining millennials, according to our research.

Companies need to put in place the framework to help younger workers grow internally. And with advances in technology, millennials will feel the need to be “upskilled” in order to keep them engaged and motivated. These opportunities could include more formalized classes or learning online.

The cost of offering new training and development needs to be weighed with a return on the investment by retaining these younger employees. Offering millennials room to grow in your company will go a long way toward helping to hang on to your best people. Knowing a company invests in employees and will help their skills grow is a solid recruitment tool, especially when it comes to millennials.

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