When the recession hit, older employees put the brakes on their retirement plans and companies shelved plans to hire, train, develop and promote younger talent. With the economy growing again and retirement savings beginning to recover, baby boomers are again thinking about retirement. As a result, employers are again thinking of ways to attract, engage, and retain new talent.


What older workers want

Baby boomers value loyalty and financial security. No surprise since many of them saw their retirement savings account balances shrivel up during the recession. Many are also juggling the challenges of working full-time and caring for elderly parents. So, employers may want to highlight how their benefits can help them to meet these key needs:

* Flexibility: Older workers are often interested in working a flexible schedule or phased retirement that allows them to progressively reduce their hours a few years before retirement.

* Work/life assistance: Many Employee Assistance Programs offer elder care resources. Making older workers aware of these services can be a relief for some. Similarly, some EAPs also offer financial and legal assistance, another plus for baby boomers.

* Retirement planning: Having professional guidance can very valuable to older employees. These resources are often available through a 401(k)/403(b) plan administrator or as a separate, voluntary benefit.


Engaging the middle generation

The Gen Xers have been much maligned as the "slacker" generation. In reality, they are very motivated and ambitious.

Generation X employees are generally mid-career, but not expecting to stay with one employer for their entire careers. In fact, Gen Xers anticipate changing jobs at least five times before retirement. Employees in this age group are also experiencing major life events, such as getting married, having children, and buying a home. To make benefits attractive to Gen Xers, companies need to help them understand how their benefits will address their need for:

* Portability: Because they are likely to work for several different employers, they appreciate benefits they can take with them, such as defined contribution retirement plans, health savings accounts, and voluntary benefits.

* Inclusion: While many Gen Xers do have families, many others have delayed having children or made the decision not to have children at all. Also, this group has a different definition of family that may include same-sex couples, blended families, and non-traditional families. To ensure that these employees don't feel excluded or perceived as less important than coworkers with traditional families, benefits messages need to take a broad view of what makes up a family.

* Building wealth: Because this generation is climbing the job ladder, purchasing homes, and saving for their children's education, messages about building wealth for the future may resonate more than saving for retirement.

* Work/life balance: This generation values work/life balance. Most have only experienced a casual work environment and attire. They want time for their families and their personal interests. Flexible work schedules and the ability to work from home are very appealing.


Getting the attention of Gen Y

Potential employees in this generation are generally not interested in their benefits - at least at first. Because they have entered the job market recently, they are more concerned about finding and keeping a job. However, once situated with an employer, their appreciation for their benefits does change. Like Gen X, Gen Yers place high value on benefits portability and work/life balance. In addition, they have a need for:

* Financial stability: According to a study by Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company, only 58% of Gen Y employees pay their bills on time and 43% have high credit card debt. They need financial guidance and education. Helping them get the most bang for their benefits dollar will appeal to this group.

* Benefits education: This generation values benefits, but they don't really understand them. Gen Y needs the basics - they don't know a PPO from a Toyota Prius. While very tech savvy, they also like to receive information about benefits through personal communication and individual counseling.

Reach Box-Farnen of Aon Hewitt at helen.box-farnen@aonhewitt.com.

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