Research: Employees aged 55 plus are disengaged with their employee benefits

A lot has been written about today’s multi-generational workforce(s) and the pressure on employers to offer benefits that cater for the needs of all employees. In our last article, we reported on the findings of our most recent employee benefit survey which revealed that younger employees are using benefits more widely than their older colleagues. For this article, we have drilled down into the data a bit more to look specifically at the usage trends of employees aged 55 and over and what this is telling us about their needs.

So what benefits do older employees want and why is usage of existing benefits currently so low?

Profile of the 55+ employee

When we look at the demographic make up of employees from this age group, we find that, as to be expected, the majority are homeowners, but a significant minority (21%) are living in rented accommodation. Furthermore, 28% have children aged 18 or over living with them and whilst 69% have lost a parent, 31% have at least one living parent. In addition, 34% have been divorced and 10% are currently living as an unmarried couple.

All of these circumstances have legal and/or financial implications for the employees concerned and many require expert advice and guidance in order to manage them. And, for other events like the death of parent or divorce, emotional support and counselling is just as important as legal advice.

The generation a gap

Given this profile, you might expect employees in this age group to use benefits that help them deal with many of the problems or issues that crop up during their lives. However, our research has revealed that the 55 plus age group use the benefits at a significantly lower rate than their younger colleagues – just 3%, compared to 12% for employees aged between 18 and 34.

As an example, while 11% of employees aged between 18 and 34 had accessed medical appointments through their employer, only 2% of the 55 plus age group had. Similarly, 29% of employees aged between 18 and 34 had taken advantage of flexible working hours, compared to 16% of the 55 plus age group.

There was also very low usage amongst the 55 plus age group of benefits such as confidential advice lines (2%), discount vouchers (3%) and health screening (3%).

Value versus usage paradox

So, is it that these employees simply don’t have the need for these services or is it that they are reluctant to use them? Looking at the results of our 2018 and 2017 surveys in conjunction, it seems that the latter may be the case. In 2017, we asked employees to tell us how valuable they would find a range of products and services if they were provided as a benefit by their employer. When we compare the results of this survey with those of 2018, we find a gap in what employees value and what they actually use.

For example, in 2017 64% of employees aged 55 plus said they would value financial advice as a benefit, yet only 1% of responders to our 2018 survey had used this benefit. Similarly, 82% rated legal advice, but only 2% had engaged with this service. Given the profile of this group, one would expect a much higher take up of services that help them sort out their financial and legal affairs as they near retirement.

Desire for support outside of work

When we asked if employees would like their employer to help them deal with issues outside of work, the results revealed that though lower than other age groups, over half (54%) of the 55 plus group would like help to deal with a number of problems. In particular, they would like help in dealing with the illness or death of a family member (32%), dealing with stress, depression or other mental health issues (27%), planning for retirement (27%) and getting access to medical diagnostics/treatment (17%).

However, when we asked if they felt their employer offered a wide range of benefits, only 17% of the 55 plus age group thought they did, compared to 51% of the 18 to 34 age group. Furthermore, only 18% thought the benefits on offer where relevant to their stage in life, compared to 45% of their younger colleagues.

Encouraging engagement

It’s clear from these findings that older employees do have a range of benefit needs, especially around their health and financial wellbeing. It’s also clear that they value highly certain benefits, so the low usage of them could be down a lack of awareness of their existence or an understanding of how useful they can be. It may also be true that older employees simply don’t expect their employer to help them out in the way that younger generations do.

However, given the role benefits have been shown to have in keeping employees engaged and loyal, we suggest employers should not only tailor their benefits more precisely, but also promote them much more effectively to their older employees. People in their fifties and sixties will often have to deal with a number of issues common to their age group – planning for retirement, divorce, looking after an elderly parent or children from a second marriage, for example. They are also more likely to experience a number of health problems associated with aging. At the same time, many workplaces depend on the knowledge and experience of their older workers to help sustain and grow their businesses.

It makes good business sense, therefore, to ensure this demographic is well catered for in terms of benefits and that, just as importantly, they are well informed and actively encouraged to use them.

Read the complete survey findings here.