Benefits: One Size No Longer Fits All

Offering a wider range of benefit choices tailored to each generation’s needs can attract and retain crucial talent.


Across the developed world, leading businesses are facing new workforce productivity challenges. Many recent graduates lack the skills necessary to succeed in today’s quickly changing workplace, while economic uncertainty has forced many experienced workers to delay their retirement. Companies need to consider the impact of these trends and the ways they can differentiate themselves as they wage the battle to find and retain top talent.  

Winning the battle for talent is about more than compensation. To remain attractive to multiple generations of current and future employees, businesses are shifting their focus to a broader array of benefits. A healthy person at the beginning of a career, for example, is more likely to want flexible benefits that support an independent lifestyle. In contrast, a long-time employee who is nearing retirement is more likely to favor a more predictable structure weighted toward retirement savings.

The reality is that there will be five generations of employees sharing the workplace by 2020, and the best places to work will be defined by their ability to meet the increasingly diverse needs of their entire workforce. So what can employers do to ensure they are offering a competitive range of benefits that attract and retain the best talent?


Workplaces are evolving — and not always in ways that support business goals. Employee trust in employers is at an all-time low, according to the Aon Workforce Mindset Study, and one-third of employees are seeking to change jobs in the next year.

With populations aging and the pool of local, fresh talent stagnant, businesses can’t afford to ignore these realities. They need to develop innovative ways to attract and retain talent, including workplace flexibility, according to the Workforce Mindset Study. Benefits packages, in particular, stand out as one area that can be made more appealing.

Craig Dolezal, senior vice president of Aon, believes offering a wider range of benefit choices tailored to each generation’s needs can become an important differentiator for attracting and retaining this talent. One model that could become a powerful vehicle for achieving both of these aims is through what Dolezal calls “a total rewards exchange,” where an employee gets to create a benefits package, prioritizing compensation, bonuses, time off, medical, dental, wellness and child care (among other rewards).

Essentially, it’s like creating “a marketplace where people can make their own decisions about how they want to be compensated,” he says, “whether they want life insurance at this level or they’d rather have it in a sabbatical. It’s up to them to decide.”

Learning From Health Exchanges

Such an arrangement can appeal to prospective employees who desire greater individual control over their benefit options and care choices. But, according to the Workforce Mindset Study, employees also want to see more honesty and transparency from their leaders, which ranks as their top suggestion. Further, consistent with other aspects of their life, they expect to be able to access information on their benefits when and where they want.

Mike Christie, senior vice president, Exchange Market Strategy at Aon, says health exchanges, which are becoming popular in the U.S., represent a significant step in this direction. Private health exchanges are competitive marketplaces where consumers can shop across multiple products — often from multiple providers in an efficient manner. Their purpose is to combine cost-accountability with meaningful control over health benefits for individual employees. They also arm employees with information to make smart choices based on their health needs and tools to evaluate their options.

“What the health exchange does is in a very overt way show employees what the employer contribution allows you to purchase,” Christie says, so it brings more cost transparency about what the company’s contribution provides them.

New thinking about benefits

The high cost of health care in the U.S. is one of the key drivers of the private health care exchange market. But the U.S. experience with private health exchanges does have potential applications in other countries. Today’s workforce is more global and diverse than ever before. In almost every country in the world, there is a greater range of age groups, ethnicities and nationalities, as well as more women, more people working remotely and more hiring in other countries and time zones.

“Private exchanges give employees a wide range of options so they can decide which plan is best suited for them,” Christie says, and this has broad appeal in markets around the world.

In the competition for talent, businesses offering benefits that employees crave is only part of the challenge. Businesses should consider using a more consumer-driven benefits approach to create incentives for healthy behaviors and encourage people to make smarter choices about the health insurance, supplemental benefits and retirement products they need to prepare and protect themselves and their families for the future. For example, strong retirement packages might have greater appeal to people in their 60s than to people in their teens — and a working parent might prioritize child care, while someone just beginning a career could be interested in tuition reimbursement.

For many, a balance of reward options is a precondition for employment, and as the battle for talent becomes more competitive, perks such as travel vouchers and free lunches could become differentiators.

The Future of Employee Rewards?

At a time when skills shortages are on the increase globally and workforce demographics are changing, 70% of employers say they are going to be revising their total rewards strategy to accommodate the changing needs and demographics of their workforces in the next five years, according to the Aon 2015 Health Care Survey. Applying the health exchange approach to employee benefits could prove a valuable model for rethinking how to administer these benefits.

It can “take away a lot of the corporate decision making employers have to do when trying to choose the right plans,” Dolezal says, allowing organizations to focus their energies on value creation rather than administrative functions.

Employers can also find significant cost savings through this model because of the reduced in-house administrative burden. By giving employees more choice, an exchange-style approach answers the increasing demand for benefits flexibility from employees. By expanding this approach beyond healthcare to a fully flexible benefits offering, organizations can offer a rewards package that meets the needs of employees as individuals, rather than attempting a one-size-fits-all approach.

“We actually think that will be the next wave of innovation,” Dolezal says. “Moving beyond healthcare exchanges to total rewards marketplaces.”

Talking Points

“By shifting the role of the employer to that of financier/facilitator and empowering employers with a true consumerism model — one that brings together competition and consumerism, a private health exchange brings a host of incentives to bear to exert positive influence on the market, including reduced costs and higher consumer satisfaction.” – Private Health Exchanges and the Consumerism Movement, Aon Hewitt (White Paper)

“We’ve seen individuals move to plans that are close to what they’ve had in the year prior, however, there are individuals who increase coverage or try to secure lower premiums. The exchange model lets people decide which plans and which insurance companies are best suited for them and their situation.” – Mike Christie, senior vice president, Exchange Market Strategy, Aon

“We believe this new approach to medical coverage better meets the needs of our diverse workforce and provides our company with increased efficiencies in our health careofferings.” – Dean Carter, chief human resources officer of Sears Holdings

Further Reading

François Choquette

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François Choquette

François Choquette leads the global benefits consulting team for Aon Hewitt. He has 25 years of experience assisting multinationals with a broad range of international human resources areas. He is one of the key architects of Aon Hewitt Global Benefit Solution (GBS).


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