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The future of benefits: Adapting to changing employee expectations

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With unemployment holding steady at well below the long-term average, competition for top talent remains intense. To continue recruiting and retaining the best people in this labor market, business owners and HR professionals must prioritize enhancing employee well-being and job satisfaction.

In this article, we’ll examine the current state of employee benefits, including expectations from potential and current workers, and outline some strategies businesses can utilize to make their company more competitive while anticipating the changing needs and wants of today’s workforce.

Changing Employee Needs and Expectations

The workforce has changed markedly in recent years, differing significantly from that of just a decade ago, particularly in their expectations for employer-provided benefits.

Gone are the days when giving employees a traditional health insurance plan and a retirement savings account were sufficient to attract talent. Today’s employees, particularly those from the younger cohorts, are looking for a holistic approach to overall well-being that supports their physical, mental and financial health.

What is holistic well-being?

A future of work with an emphasis on holistic well-being is a clear departure from the conventional focus on physical health benefits. We often see the term holistic used without taking a moment to understand what it really means.

As it relates to workplace benefits, a holistic approach is one based on the principle that employee well-being can only be fully understood by examining the needs of the whole person, including physical, mental and financial well-being, as well as life stage and family situation.

Top candidates will expect comprehensive well-being programs that address mental health, stress management and work-life balance. Depending on the age, location and demographic nature of the workforce, tailored packages may include wellness programs, access to counseling services, financial resources and other initiatives that promote a healthy and stress-free work environment.

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Today’s Workers Value Employer Assistance

Modern workers place a high emphasis on employer-supported wellness and personal growth programs. The once-taboo subjects of addiction and mental health are now areas where many employees welcome and appreciate the support and resources provided by their employers. This includes assistance in overcoming challenges with tobacco, alcohol or substance addiction.

Employees also value opportunities for personal and physical well-being. This could include being part of company-organized groups focused on weight loss, yoga or healthy cooking. Financial well-being is also a priority, with workshops on budgeting and investing drawing significant interest.

There’s a growing expectation among employees for their employers to foster a sense of community and healthy living beyond the office. This is often achieved through sponsoring events like 5k runs or other activities that promote healthy social interactions.

The needs of employees are diverse and evolve throughout their life stages. Whether it’s young parents seeking childcare support, families planning for college expenses or seniors planning for retirement, employees across all age groups expect a range of tailored benefits from their employers that address their specific life-stage needs.

Highlight Flexibility and Remote Work

The rise of remote work, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and other global events, has led to significant shifts in employee expectations. Traditional benefits tied to office-centric policies, relationships, procedures and structures may no longer be relevant for employees who work remotely.

Every organization must accommodate flexible work arrangements, remote-friendly policies and benefits that support the unique challenges of working remotely. Such benefits may include stipends for home office setup or mental health resources focused on isolation and other work-from-home stressors. It’s essential to balance benefits and pay equity for remote workers with those offered to commuters.

Support Financial Wellness

In a tough economy, especially during periods of high inflation, financial stress can be a prevalent concern for many employees. Accordingly, the demand for benefits that address financial wellness has grown.

Many organizations now provide educational programs on financial literacy. Some employers contribute to student loan repayments or provide access to financial advisors. By prioritizing financial wellness, companies show a commitment to their team’s long-term stability and prosperity while also fostering greater employee engagement.

Key Financial Wellness Initiatives

Because of the impact financial stress can have on employee well-being, every business would be wise to consider providing financial wellness initiatives. This could include educational workshops on budgeting and investing, employer contributions to retirement savings or partnerships with financial wellness platforms.

By offering employee assistance programs that address the financial concerns of employees, businesses can contribute to a more engaged and focused workforce.

Adapt Benefits Strategies for the Future

Acknowledging that employee expectations are changing is the first step for HR professionals and business owners. The next step is upgrading and adjusting employee benefits strategies to align with the evolving needs of the workforce.

Customize and Personalize

Today’s workforce has never been more diverse, with workers ranging from Gen Z to Baby Boomers all playing an active role. In order to address the needs of a workforce that is both diverse and multi-generational, organizations must strive for effective customization and personalization of benefit programs.

Young workers may have fewer health problems, but they’re the most likely to have children. Workers in their middle years likely need the flexibility to support both school-age children and, in some cases, dependent elders. Older workers will be looking for robust health coverage and flexible retirement plans.

Providing a range of options allows employees to tailor their benefits packages to match their individual preferences and circumstances. This might involve Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), a menu of health insurance options or a cafeteria-style benefits program.

Emphasize Mental Health Benefits

Mental health issues were once a taboo topic in the workplace. Today, however, employers are increasingly recognizing the importance of improved mental health, especially in the face of rising stress and burnout.

Including mental health resources in benefits packages, such as counseling services, mindfulness programs or even mental health days, can contribute to a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

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Support Flexible Work and Remote Benefits

Acknowledging a future of work that is based remotely, businesses should consider benefits programs that specifically cater to hybrid and remote employees. This could involve stipends for home office equipment, subscriptions to virtual wellness programs or initiatives to foster virtual team building.

Additionally, flexible work arrangements, such as compressed workweeks or flexible hours, can contribute to an improved work-life balance. These benefits can be particularly important when an organization has a global workforce.

Help Employees Make Informed Choices

As tailored benefits are developed, the HR team must take the lead in informing employees about available benefits, as well as educating workers about the features of each program. Employees should regard HR as the in-house expert, always ready with answers to help employees make informed choices.

Benefits education should include a suite of communication tools, including an employee handbook, easy-to-access online resources with answers to FAQs and a library of additional, in-depth information.

Embrace the Latest Technology

Most employees, especially the younger cohorts, expect to find answers using their laptops and smartphones. Successful benefits administrators apply new technology wherever possible, leveraging digital tools in information gathering and distribution.

From mobile apps for accessing health care information to online portals for benefits enrollment, integrating technology into the benefits experience enhances accessibility and convenience. Technology-driven benefits administration aligns with the expectations of tech-savvy employees and can help streamline processes for the HR team.

Measure Your Progress

In business, measuring performance often leads to improvement. Without a regular review of results, there are no criteria to adjust and improve a benefit program’s performance. Include a benefits assessment process based on employee surveys, check-ins and other feedback, providing a regular report card with metrics that show whether benefit programs are meeting employees’ expectations.

Position the Company to Attract and Retain the Best

The future of employee benefits offers many opportunities to sharpen the toolbox of human resource management. But, these opportunities will come with new challenges, such as aligning new benefits with company culture, staying on the right side of compliance with employment law and, of course, justifying the cost of new benefits based on their expected impact.

Despite these challenges, forward-looking organizations that will be bold enough to step forward into the future of benefits by meeting and exceeding employees’ expectations will be positioned to attract and retain the best candidates, and those organizations will see their investment returned in the form of improved recruitment, engagement, productivity and loyalty.

Stay Ahead of the Competition

The future of benefits, from group insurance to 401(k) and retirement plans, will continue to evolve to meet employees’ ever-changing expectations. By fulfilling these expectations, organizations can bolster both employees’ job satisfaction and their ability to recruit and retain the best people.

In navigating the complexities of today’s diverse and evolving workforce, crafting an employee benefits program that resonates with every member of your team is vital. At Higginbotham, we understand the intricacies of developing comprehensive benefits packages that meet the needs of workers at every life stage.

If your business is seeking guidance in building a benefits program that supports the well-being of your employees, we’re here to help. Get in touch with a member of our employee benefits team and discover how we can help create an employee benefits strategy that fosters a productive work environment, keeps your business competitive and supports your employees.

Not sure where to start? Talk to someone who wants to listen.

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