Suitable for all ages

Linda Levesque, vice president of HR benefits at Unum, looks at how flexibility can be used to attract workers of all ages.


Workplace demographics have undergone a radical shift in recent years. For the first time, there are now five generations of people working side by side – from later life workers through to fresh faced millennials – each bringing different skills and perspectives to the workplace. This growing diversity creates huge opportunities for businesses that can bring together talent from both ends of the scale, but only if they can continue to attract and retain talent from across the age spectrum.

This is a delicate balancing act. Different demographics naturally have different working values, cultures and requirements, and developing a flexible working environment and reward package which appeals to workers across the board is a fundamental challenge. So how do employee needs and values change across the course of a lifetime, and how can employers accommodate sometimes conflicting demands?

Embrace difference

For different employees – and especially those of differing ages – an attractive and engaging place to work can mean a myriad of different things. For example, Unum’s research has found that 18-34-year olds place far greater importance on career opportunities, inspiring senior leadership and feeling part of a team compared to their older counterparts. By contrast, support around ill health becomes increasingly important as we get older whilst career progression and a company bonus becomes far less important than for younger workers.

In this context, a “one size fits all” approach rarely works, which is why employers need to make sure measures to make their company an attractive place to work can be flexed in response to very different sets of values. Flexible working practices and benefits are the key to achieving this.

Flexible working

To get the best out of their people, employers need to think about flexible and responsive working practices that fit both the needs of this diverse workforce and the business. Flexible and remote working opportunities allow workers of all ages to fit work around their own needs and are popular across the board. In fact 43% of employees say that the opportunity to work flexible hours is the top health and wellbeing benefit which makes or would make them feel most satisfied in their role.

According to our research, 61% of younger workers aged 18-34 say that the option to work flexibly around personal commitments is important to them, perhaps because they are more used to using technology to work remotely and on the move. Unsurprisingly, this is also crucial to parents. It was recently revealed in research by Powwownow that over 40% of those requesting a flexible working pattern were parents looking to spend more time with their children and avoid expensive childcare options.

Flexible working remains a key consideration for older workers, but for different reasons. Many may be looking for part time or flexible work as they approach semi-retirement or to fit around caring commitments, while others will be looking for flexibility to help tackle the increased likelihood of ill health in old age. In fact, 66% of workers over the age of 55 say flexibility at work if they fall ill is important to them.

Flexible benefits

But flexible working is only one side of the coin. Employers that are committed to retaining and attracting top talent should make sure flexible working practices are underpinned by a comprehensive and flexible benefits strategy. This is a tangible way for employers to demonstrate they care for their staff, and helps them to stand out from competitors.

Flexible benefits schemes provide staff with an adaptable package that they can opt in and out of to match their individual situations and changing needs. This helps them to get the most from their reward package by making sure it consists of benefits they truly value, at whatever stage they are in life. So, for example, younger workers might opt in to slightly ‘softer’ benefits, such as gym membership or cycle to work schemes, while later life workers might opt for elective health insurance to cover the cost of medical treatment.

A flexible benefits package should also include financial protection which is valuable at any age, such as Income Protection, Life Cover, Sick Pay Insurance and Private Medical Insurance. Income Protection, for example, provides a back-up plan for the 1 in 10 employees who will go on long-term sick-leave during their working lives. Employers should consider funding a basic level of financial protection and giving employees the option to buy more at a discounted company rate according to their needs.

Everyone benefits

Flexibility, both in working practices and reward packages, is incredibly important but can be a scary concept for employers trying to work out how to implement and monitor it. But forward-looking businesses that take on the challenge stand to benefit. Not only does flexibility empower staff to feel more in control of their working life, it drives employee engagement, reduces staff turnover and helps to make a company into an employer of choice.

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