By Pamela Stevenson, CVPM

The working world is faced with a curious dilemma – the presence of several distinct generations with their own particular styles of work and diverse expectations regarding the benefits those jobs provide.

The world of veterinary medicine is no different, and to remain relevant as attractive employers and continue to thrive in a changing economic environment, it’s important for veterinary practice managers to understand how the expectations of these generations of workers differ and how they can continue to be competitive employers with benefits that speak to multiple generations.

The four generations currently working side by side – Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists – represent a broad spectrum of benefits expectations.

Today, whether because of economic necessity or choice, many people are working into their 70s. In 2015, these workers make up three percent of the total work force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and represent the Traditionalists. These workers came of age during the 1950s and hold, as the name suggests, more traditional expectations for their benefits. In the current marketplace, it’s not unusual for these employees to be on their second (or even third) careers after having retired from a long-term job in their 50s or 60s. They are concerned with maintaining their health so that when they do retire, they can enjoy it. But because of their age (between 70 and 86 years old) and the small segment of the veterinary work force that they represent, changes in benefits will take their situation into account the least.

Their children – those born in the post-World War II years between 1945 and 1964 – are known as the Baby Boom generation. This gigantic demographic bulge has had a massive effect on nearly everything about American culture, economics and work. According to the BLS, they represent 38 percent of the work force in 2015.

While being known as the “Me Generation” for many years, the Baby Boomers have emerged as a group that values ethics and personal drive, believing that rewards come after paying one’s dues. They have also come to be known as the “Sandwich Generation,” because many, at between 50 and 69 years old, are simultaneously supporting grown children living at home and supporting or caring for elderly parents. They are concerned about when they will be able to retire and if they’ll have enough money to do so.

Among the non-standard employee benefits that appeal to them most are:

  • Auto insurance
  • Discount programs (primarily for services)
  • Financial counseling
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Home warrantee coverage
  • Legal assistance
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Wellness programs

Born between 1965 and 1979, the workers of Generation X have historically sought a “work hard, play hard” balance between life and career, preferring to accumulate skills not through doing a single task, but by tackling a variety of projects. The keys to their retention in the workplace are salary, autonomy, independence and significant opportunities for promotion.

At 33 percent of the current work force, according to the BLS, the workers of Generation X fall between the ages of 35 and 49 and represent the majority of veterinary practice employees. Factors that affect the benefits they seek include the financial stresses of raising children, preparing to care for aging parents and saving for retirement. In addition, this generation is more likely to maintain significant credit card debt and struggle to meet household expenses.

When it comes to non-standard employee benefits, the members of Generation X look for:

  • Child care
  • Discount programs (primarily for goods)
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Employee purchase programs
  • Financial counseling
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Identity theft protection
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Wellness programs

In addition, voluntary benefits tend to appeal to them most. Within the workplace, Generation X workers are perhaps most concerned about Millennials overrunning them in both skill development and advancement.

Millennials, or those workers born between 1980 and 2000, represent about 38 percent of all workers nationally and differ from their predecessors in a number of ways. Perhaps most of all, they seek and value professional fulfillment, even in entry-level positions. As these workers progress, they tend to expect rapid promotions and meaningful work, and they’re not afraid to pursue other opportunities in their absence.

Also, having grown up in the unsteady economy of the 21st century, they have no qualms about juggling multiple jobs or being willing to change jobs frequently. Millennials tend to be wary of being trapped in routine jobs or in what they might view as eternal internships.

As a result, the keys to retaining Millennial employees often hinge on building relationships, asking them to perform multiple tasks and providing fast rewards.

When it comes to benefits for Millennial employees, “portable” is perhaps the most important term to remember. In addition, they tend to require forced savings programs, concierge services and financial education.Financial Planning

Voluntary benefits that appeal to Millennials include:

  • Employee assistance programs
  • Employee purchase programs
  • Discount programs
  • Financial counseling
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • Identity theft protection
  • Tuition assistance
  • Wellness programs

For Millennials, financial counseling and tuition assistance tend to loom large, as the average member of this age demographic carries an average of $29,000 in student loan debt.

Generational Attitudes on Benefits

Between the advent of World War II and 2015, health benefits for working adults have changed considerably. As a result, the requirements and expectations of the broad spectrum of individuals you might employ are vastly different.

As previously noted, members of the Traditional generation have perhaps seen the most change in their employer-provided benefits. Long gone are the days of paternalistic corporations that, upon hire, vowed to take care of employees until they died. As a result, these employees will find it most difficult to adapt to new health care and retirement plans. However, with an employee’s willingness to offer education and motivation on medical care responsibility and retirement, it can be done.

Because they are still active workers but are more likely to report (and have to pay for) health problems related to their age, it’s important to offer employees from the Baby Boom generation an expanded menu of options that will allow them to deal effectively with their particular needs.

For instance, employers can help by providing education on selecting appropriate medical plans, taking advantage of voluntary benefits, and maximizing the potential of health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts. These last two are particularly important because they allow employees to better plan for medical expenses while also realizing tax benefits.

The benefits needs of employees from the Generation X demographic clearly reflect the job instability and family support challenges many have seen their parents experience, along with a growing awareness of the health challenges that will emerge as they age. As a result, they seek a simplified, flexible health benefits platform that includes child care, elder care and wellness programs to help them maintain their physical and mental health. In addition, they seek more support in their health care benefits selection based on prior usage, as well as the electronic availability of benefits documents.

Millennials, meanwhile, fully embrace all the available technology and feel exceptionally comfortable both shopping for and enrolling in benefits online. However, many on the younger end of this generation will remain on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26. Those who will seek employer benefits will often gravitate toward plans with higher deductibles in an effort to keep more of what they earn.

Benefits for All

Boomers, Gen X and Millenial Benefits

While preferences and needs regarding health insurance vary considerably across generations, identity theft protection and legal services are two benefits that cut across all them. Few things are as disruptive for employees as legal difficulties, and as the problem grows, having ones identity stolen. Both can result in lost time at work and employees who are distracted while on the job, resulting in less attentive patient care, loss of productivity and a negative effect on a veterinary practice’s bottom line.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel database, identity theft complaints have grown from 86,250 in 2001 to more than 290,000 in 2013. And with 75 percent of identity theft victims between the ages of 20 and 59, the problem tends to strike people in their prime working years.

Offering an identity theft protection as part of your practice’s benefits package could make a significant difference in how deeply a practice’s employees are affected by this growing problem, as the time needed to address the problem increases exponentially the longer the issue goes undetected.

Meanwhile, common legal issues such as divorce and bankruptcy can add a huge financial and psychological burden to employees’ lives. Nearly 1 million people filed for bankruptcy between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that between 800,000 and 900,000 couples divorce each year.

Because most of your employees would find it financially impossible to pay for hourly legal fees, 55 percent of employers with voluntary benefits now make legal services an option for employees. Those services can include:

  • Writing a will or living will
  • Establishing a trust
  • Resolving traffic violations
  • Creating a health care power of attorney
  • Reviewing contracts and documents
  • Family issues, such as adoption or divorce
  • Resolving identity theft legalities

Among large employers, 25 percent offer identity theft protection through their benefits plans, and some go as far as to subsidize the protection plans. When left to employees to pay, a plan that offers both legal services and identity theft protection can run anywhere from $12 to $15 a month per employee.

In conclusion, a veterinary practice with an interest in providing exceptional patient care and customer service would be well advised to assess the benefits it offers. But understanding what voluntary benefits have to offer and recognizing their value, practice owners and managers can build worker retention, loyalty and motivation by better providing for the needs of employees across the demographic spectrum.

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