Work is not just about earning a wage — it’s about facilitating a certain lifestyle. Employers know this, and they have long combined competitive compensation with robust benefits packages to attract top talent.

Offering attractive benefits is, of course, still a sound recruiting strategy in today’s day and age, but this strategy is also long overdue for an update. We must acknowledge two realities up front.

First, the cost of benefits has risen exponentially. According to SHRM, health benefit costs are growing at twice the rate of wage increases and three times the rate of general inflation. Under these conditions, it is simply not feasible for companies to offer 100 percent health coverage and automatic pension plans. Generous health and retirement benefits may once have been the standard, but practical realities have forced many companies to contract their benefits packages.

Second, even if workers can’t expect the benefits of the past, they still expect something of value. Today’s employees seek to achieve a perfect balance between work and life. Facilitating that balance may not take as much investment on the part of employers, but it does require more flexibility and innovation than traditional benefits packages.

The confluence of these two forces puts recruiters and employers in a difficult position: They are unable to deliver the benefits of yesteryear, but they are also unsure about how to replace them.

Thankfully, all it takes to create an attractive benefits package for today’s employees is to offer them what they actually want.

Inside the Minds of Today’s Job Seekers

You may think the kinds of benefits employees want are obvious: better healthcare, more vacation days, and remote work options — right? While these are appealing offerings, none of them acknowledge the realities and associated anxieties of the current workforce.

When Willis Towers Watson went straight to the source and asked employees about their biggest concerns, the results were eye-opening. Thirty-six percent of employees said they were worried about their debt loads, and 52 percent said they were currently struggling financially. Perhaps most sobering of all the findings: Seventy-six percent said they expected to struggle more in retirement than their parents did.

Given the economy’s recent strength and a historically low unemployment rate, the amount of unease among today’s workers is unexpected to say the least. Still, these insights are important as recruiters and employers work to revise benefits packages for the current economy. Clearly, employees aren’t looking for cool perks or fun rewards — they’re looking for benefits that build meaningful stability in their lives. The employers who deliver such benefits will have the most success when it comes to recruiting and retaining top performers.

Modern Benefits That Attract Employees

Updating your benefits offerings doesn’t have to mean scrapping the entire package. Rather, it simply means incorporating those missing benefits that matter most to employees. This may include:

1. Medical Benefits

Free healthcare may not be feasible, but employers can do a lot to subsidize the costs of employee healthcare. Regardless of the percentage of employees’ premiums you can cover, you can take steps to connect employees with low-cost treatment and prescription options. This will help relieve one of the major sources of emotional and financial strain in your workers’ lives, especially if these benefits apply to their partners and families as well.

2. Paid Time Off

When employees need to take time off work, they shouldn’t have to worry about the wages they’re missing. Paid time off gives employees time for themselves and their families without forcing them to take a financial hit. Don’t limit this offering to sick days. In general, employers should be as flexible as they can be in terms of when, why, and how people are allowed to use PTO.

3. Dental and Vision

Employers sometimes treat these ancillary benefits like added perks, but in reality, they are major contributors to an individual’s health and well-being. Covering dental and vision helps employees avoid major medical bills and difficult decisions about family budgets. Because these are not standard benefit offerings, many employees view companies that do cover dental and vision as especially generous and supportive. That, in turn, improves your reputation with talented candidates and makes current employees more likely to stay for longer.

4. Retirement Plans

The Willis Towers Watson survey indicated American employees are increasingly worried about their financial futures. Retirement plans and employee matching agreements help alleviate a lot of this worry. Additionally, this benefit demonstrates a company’s eagerness to invest in employees. Not surprisingly, that investment translates into real company gains: a quality retirement plan can drive robust retention rates and better financial performance for the company overall.

5. Student Loan Repayment Programs

Younger employees are less worried about retirement and more worried about the mountains of student loan debt many of them graduated with. Only 4 percent of employers currently offer student loan repayment programs, but more than 80 percent of job seekers with student loans said they’d prefer to work for companies that do.

Recruiters and employers need to think about the last time they updated their benefits packages — and how their recruitment efforts have been in the interim. To improve the latter, the solution is simple: Get serious about the former.

Thomas Murphy is managing partner of Sonus Benefits.

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