Employers who want to attract and retain the best talent acknowledge that the one-size-fits-most approach to benefits plans and programs will no longer work for a workforce that has become younger and more diverse, according to a workforce benefits study by LIMRA and Ernst & Young.

Nine of 10 employers agreed that benefits would be critical to attract and retain talent, as did 95% of those from organizations with at least 1,000 employees, according to the report, called “Harnessing Growth and Seizing Opportunity.” It noted that 50% of small employers and 62% of large employers plan to increase the number of benefits offered in the next five years.

“Since the pandemic, employers have faced a dramatically different workforce dynamic with a sustained increase in hybrid and remote workers, which is reshaping expectations,” said Patrick Leary, corporate vice president and head of LIMRA’s workplace benefits research program, in a statement. “In this highly competitive job market, benefits remain a powerful tool to attract and retain talent. Employers recognize that expanded benefits are key to meeting employees’ post-Covid-19 needs and expectations.”

The research found that most employees expect their employers to provide medical insurance, and place a high value on paid family leave, dental, vision and life insurance benefits. But benefits geared toward well-being, particularly mental health and wellness, have become even more important to employees, the report said, noting that these needs spiked during the pandemic and have remained relevant.

Employers aren’t shying away from such offerings. In fact, the report found, things such as emergency savings programs, career development programs, caregiving benefits, student loan assistance and broader wellness offerings are becoming even more valuable than traditional benefits.

Employers saw paid family leave as a benefit of high interest to employees and rated it nearly as important as medical insurance. LIMRA’s report noted that 13 states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave legislation, while several other states are considering similar bills.

It’s not surprising that different age groups want different benefits. Gen Z, the report said, values mental wellness benefits more than other generations. They also place high emphasis on career development, student loan assistance, tuition assistance, physical health wellness programs and societal wellness benefits or opportunities to contribute to society.

Millennials, like Gen Z, are also interested in career development, physical health wellness programs and societal wellness benefits. They also highlighted emergency savings and programs on financial wellness and employee assistance as important.

Both baby boomers and Gen Xers place their highest value on physical wellness benefits. They are most interested in medical and other health-related benefits, such as dental and vision coverage. Gen X furthermore puts a high priority on long-term disability insurance.

The report found that most employees want to use digital media to shop for, select and use their benefits. More than half view online enrollment and claims submission as the most important digital services.

There was a difference among age groups in how much hand-holding they wanted from their employers in evaluating and selecting benefits. Gen Z was the most reliant on employers—88% of them said they wanted that help, while only 74% of baby boomers did. And younger employees more often wanted to get their benefits information through mobile apps, something desired by 60% of Gen Z and 48% of millennials. Only 23% of boomers wanted to engage via a mobile-friendly website.

The findings, say LIMRA and Ernst & Young, show that benefit programs “must be refined to meet the needs of today’s workforce and get ahead of tomorrow’s evolving needs.” The report also said that generative artificial intelligence programs (think chatbots such as ChatGPT) could be used to generate educational content for employees that helps them choose benefits.

Technology is going to play a bigger role in the benefits world, if the report is any indication. In the future, most employers are going to lean more on the technology provided by their carriers. (Two-thirds of small organizations, 70% of midsize employers and 73% of large employers said they will rely more heavily on carrier-provided technology in five years.) Fifty-nine percent of employers said they would select carriers based on their ability to connect with their benefits technology platform, and nearly half of them said they would switch providers if their current one couldn’t integrate with their platform. Only 41%, by comparison, said they would select the carriers with the best value product.

For the 2023 benefits study, LIMRA and Ernst & Young surveyed 830 employers from a cross section of industries and entity sizes, as well as more than 1,800 U.S. workers, with a balanced representation of people by age, gender, income, race and region.