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By Genevieve Douglas

Human resources departments faced with a tightening labor market are increasingly turning their focus to employee retention and searching for solutions that aren’t just monetary.

Many organizations hoping to retain top talent can’t give workers more money, so they’ve turned to creating benefits packages that will engender employee loyalty, according to new research from MetLife. More employers (83 percent) chose retaining employees as an important benefits objective than increasing employee productivity (80 percent) and controlling health and welfare benefit costs (79 percent). Perhaps even more telling, slightly more than half of employers (51 percent) said that retaining employees through the use of benefits will become even more important in the next three to five years.

“The workforce and the overall concept of work is changing,” in large part due to the rise of the gig economy, Todd Katz, executive vice president of Group Benefits at MetLife, told Bloomberg BNA April 6. Not only is it harder to find the right talent for open positions, but people are increasingly interested in pursuing jobs that are part of the contingent workforce, Katz said.

MetLife found that 51 percent of employees said they would be interested in doing some level of freelance work and that number jumped to 64 percent for millennials. “The traditional employer/employee relationship is being threatened,” Katz said.

MetLife’s annual “U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study” was conducted from October 2016 through November 2016 and consisted of two different surveys. The employer survey is based on 2,504 interviews with benefits decision-makers and the employee survey is based on 2,652 interviews with full-time employees.

Customization Engenders Loyalty

Customization of benefits is the key to attracting and keeping valuable employees, Katz said. “The one-size-fits-all doesn’t work anymore,” he said.

MetLife found that 75 percent of employees said that having benefits customized to meet their needs is important when they consider a new job and 72 percent said that having the ability to customize benefits would increase their loyalty to their employer. People are able to customize nearly everything else in life and they expect to be able to do the same with their benefits, Katz said.

Employers need to offer a broad array of benefits that are holistic enough to recognize the different needs of their workforce, he said.

Wellness benefits, such as employer-sponsored gym memberships or incentive programs for healthy living, are becoming more popular with employees, Katz said. “The key is to cast your net wide, and if you do that you’ll get better [employee] loyalty,” he said.

Addressing Manager/Employee Relationships

Although benefits are certainly part of the solution to improving employee retention, focusing only on these offerings may be “missing the main point” of why workers leave, Rex Conner, author and owner of workplace consultancy Mager Consortium, told Bloomberg BNA April 6. Fixing the root cause of employee retention requires HR to examine manager-employee relationships, he said. “People join companies, but then they leave their boss,” he said.

“When we have conflicts with our boss, it’s because something—a work process—was left open to interpretation,” Conner said. “This subjectivity in the workplace can be a root problem of why employees are unhappy.”

To create happier, more loyal employees, HR must remove subjectivity from job assignments, performance evaluations and other workplace practices. Removing subjectivity will require better communications between employees and supervisors and also clearer workplace programs from HR, Conner said.

For managers, this means offering specific examples of when employees are doing things right, Conner said. This creates something objective on which the employee can be evaluated and get feedback, he added. This is increasingly important when managing younger generations of employees, Conner said. “Millennials are much more apt than their counterparts to leave when they feel they aren’t being treated fairly,” he said.

The fundamental fix for all employees, however, is the same: “Let’s clarify work processes, how you will be evaluated and how you will get pay raises,” Conner said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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