What will millennial workers want in their future benefit packages? Will employer-paid health care benefits become a thing of the past with the growing access to health care through the Affordable Care Act? Is it enough to offer standard health/dental/vision plans plus a 401k option and vacation?

I asked my millennial generation Human Resource Management class about their preferences for innovative benefits this week. I think you’ll be surprised. HR executives, take note! Your next generation of worker benefits should center on one theme: freedom.



 Freedom from time cards

An actual paper time card? No, thanks. If you have to pay hourly, let them “clock in” remotely or on their smartphone as they arrive. Let their GPS tie into your store so that you can verify their attendance electronically.

Freedom from chairs

Standing desks, yoga balls and ergonomic options for sitting were mentioned as “must haves.” Wellness and exercise seem to be more of a priority than in the Gen X and Y generations. As a business professor I see this in the choice of recreation and relaxation activities that my students rely upon for good mental and physical health. I assume this will trickle down within their careers in the form of better ergonomic, posture and wellness needs on the job.

Freedom from student loan debt

Two-thirds of college graduates have an average of $26,600 in student loan debt. In 2013, student loan debt in the U.S. surpassed the $1.2 trillion mark¹ and continues to grow. Student loan debt considerations are  a major barrier to taking risky steps after college. As in, I can’t travel because I have to get a job right away to start paying my student loans. Or, I shouldn’t take a lower paying job that I love rather than a higher paying job that I can tolerate. Employers often offer tuition assistance for employees to further their education. Why don’t they offer a tuition repayment option as well? Help with expenses on the back end instead of expenses up front. An employee can choose one or the other, but not both.

Freedom from the cubical

Cube farms aren’t attractive to most college grads even though it’s the place most start for entry level management positions. We’ve all shown Office Space too many times in University and now it’s ruined the cubical furniture market for the next generation. (Sorry, not sorry.) Cubical walls serve to choke the very life out of innovative processes and collaborative work environments, both of which are heavily favored in the current business education curriculum.

Freedom from limited choices

Why can’t benefit choices be more like an a la cart menu and less like the kids meal options? Millennials want choices that will grow when them and their changing family structure. At the start of a career, cheaper health benefits and more plentiful perks (gym, phone, laptop). At the mid-career point, more vacation and subsidized child care might be preferred. At the end-career time frame, elder care and investment counseling might be key.

Freedom from the mundane

We did a little brainstorming and came up with some out-of-the-box benefit options. Some may seem silly, but perhaps not in the very near future.

  • First year bonus for high GPA coming out of college.
  • Subsidized public transportation.
  • Wellness benefits that include chiropractic, massage, acupuncture and other holistic medicine options.
  • Leave of absence for religious pilgrimages or spiritual awakening pursuits.
  •  Subsidized child care or elder care.
  • Student loan forgiveness or pay-back assistance tied to performance or tenure.
  • Free number of hours per week of go-for assistance for errands.
  • Technology allowance for gadgets or accessories.
  • Free or reduced meals on site. A concentration on health and wellness in the menu.
  • Wellness and personal life coaching included in health benefits.
  • Allowances instead of bonuses for technology, transportation, travel and equipment.
  • Paid time for volunteering in the community.

I know what you may be thinking. What are we doing, here? Spoiling our next generation of employees? When I started my career… blah, blah, blah.

I hear you, but hear this. These innovative benefit ideas respond to the needs of the whole person. Wellness, wholeness, spirituality and work-life balance are important to the next generation (and the current one). In addition, time and support for volunteering in the community and building a collaborative learning environment will become priorities in the very near future.

Employers who abandon the but we’ve always done it this way mentality will better respond to the needs of their up-and-coming workforce and will reap the benefits of more loyal and committed workers.