Workplace Culture

Benefits Provide an Edge in the War for Young Talent

By Rita Pyrillis

Jul. 13, 2017

Businessmen in suits holding a giant magnet and trying to attract young talent to their company
Benefits can be the key to attracting the best and the brightest young talent.

It’s a buyer’s market for recent college graduates and that poses a recruiting challenge for employers. For many, benefits can be the key to attracting the best and the brightest young talent.

At consulting firm EY where two-thirds of employees are millennials, offering a variety of benefits that reflect their needs is a critical part of its recruiting strategy.

“We have historically hired a large number of entry-level employees, but those numbers have really grown in the past couple of years,” said Natasha Stough, Ernst & Young’s campus recruiting leader in North America. “Many millennials are in leadership roles and that’s pushed us to be extremely thoughtful around our total rewards package. It’s required us to think about our benefits, like extending our parental leave to women and men, whether you give birth or adopt. Those things are really critical to millennials.”

Generally, this age group is between 18 and 32 years old and at EY their numbers are growing rapidly. This year the consulting firm is expected to hire a whopping 9,000 new employees and interns — the majority of them millennials. At the same time employers agree that benefits are becoming more important in recruiting and retention, according to MetLife’s 15th annual “Benefit Trends” study.

More than half of employers surveyed said that benefits will grow in importance over the next three to five years. And as workforce demographics change, the kinds of benefits that employers offer will need to change as well, according to Todd Katz, executive vice president of group benefits at MetLife.

Natasha Stough headshot
Natasha Stough, Ernst & Young’s campus recruiting leader in North America

“To attract and retain top talent in this new era, especially during a time of decreasing unemployment rates, employers have an opportunity to adapt their workplaces to address the unique needs of their employees,” he said in a press statement announcing the recent survey. “This is especially critical when it comes to benefits.”

In fact, nearly three-fourths of employees say that having benefits customized to meet their needs is important when considering taking a new job and 72 percent say that having the ability to customize their benefits would increase their loyalty to their current employer, according to the MetLife survey. The numbers are even higher for millennials. More than three-fourths said customized benefits would increase their company loyalty compared to 67 percent of baby boomers.

Indeed, younger workers having an array of benefits choices and the flexibility to tailor them to individual needs is extremely important, according to Peter Marcia, CEO of YouDecide, a voluntary benefits outsourcing firm in Duluth, Georgia.

“These folks are used to having whatever they want, whenever they want it,” he said. “They’re used to getting on the phone and buying something. They like having access to everything they need and that includes having a broad array of voluntary benefits to choose from.”

Topping that list is student loan debt programs followed by automobile, renters, and pet insurance, according to Marcia.

Employers who want to recruit recent graduates need to go beyond traditional benefits like health insurance, 401(k)s and flexible vacation schedules and offer something that resonates with younger workers. With so many graduates entering the job market saddled with student loans, interest in benefits to help them pay those debts is growing. Yet only 4 percent of companies offer such a benefit according the Society for Human Resource Management. Among those that do are Aetna, PwC and EY.

EY began offering a student loan refinancing program three years ago and in the past year has beefed up its overall benefits program in part to attract younger workers. The company now offers benefits that cover infertility treatments and offers 16 weeks paid parental leave for new dads, according to Stough. More than 1,735 U.S. employees are participating in the program.

“Comp and benefits are not typically at the very top of the list for this generation,” she said. “They are much more short term in their thinking. Without a doubt flexibility is very important to them — flexibility in how they work and where they work and flexibility to meet their personal commitments. They have a lot of options and opportunities. That’s good news for recent grads but it pushes us to work even harder to recruit them.”

Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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