Boosting Benefits

By Martin D. Kirshner, CPA, MSA, Gray, Gray & Gray, LLP

Having a hard time hiring good people to work at your propane or fuel oil company? Struggling to keep experienced people? Welcome to the new world facing employers. The robust economy has made finding and hiring qualified workers a monumentally difficult task. For industries like fuel oil and propane, the problem goes beyond the low unemployment numbers and intersects with the way Millennials — members of the country’s largest ever generation — view their relationship with work.

According to a study conducted by the Gallup Organization and published by the Harvard Business Review, 71% of Millennials are “either not engaged or actively disengaged at work, making them the least engaged generation in the U.S.” Employment experts cite active engagement as essential to retaining employees.

Writing for the care@work website, Senior Human Resources Consultant James Morrissey says, “Millennials seem far more interested in work-life integration – making the pieces of their professional life and personal life align in ways that they coexist and often times blend together.” Employers across all industries need to take this attitude into account when organizing the benefits that will attract talented people.


More Benefits, Different Benefits

For many years, companies in the energy business provided a “typical” array of benefits to their employees. Combing through results of our annual energy survey from as far back as 1992, we find most respondents offered a menu of a group health plan, group life insurance, paid vacation, and paid sick days. However, these benefits are just the baseline for attracting and retaining employees today.

For example, compared to previous generations, Millennials place a greater emphasis on opportunities to learn and grow and opportunities for advancement. So your company needs to craft a benefits package that addresses this focus. Let’s take a look at some of the more effective benefits that companies are offering today to capture the attention and loyalty of younger workers:

Education and Training – Many younger employees are entering the workforce not fully prepared to be workers. Their skills are unpolished, and their ability to collaborate and interact with others may be unformed. Generations ago these deficiencies would be corrected during an apprenticeship period. Today, too many employers are impatient with employees who need time to adjust and adapt. They want to do the work, but need additional, formal training to achieve proficiency.

Many of these younger professionals will judge a company based on their onboarding process so it is important to make a good first impression, as well as have a solid introductory training program. Ongoing investment in training – either in-house or using a third party – benefits both the company and the employee. You gain a skilled worker, they enjoy the fulfillment and satisfaction of becoming more competent.

Unlimited Paid Time Off (Disclaimer: Outside of heating season!) – Employees want more control over how they spend their time, and they are not as “clock conscious” as previous generations. Employers are meeting this demand by merging all forms of paid time off (vacation, sick days, personal days) into a common “bucket” for use by employees as they see fit. Some people may use their time to stay home when a child is sick, others could accumulate their time to pursue adventure travel, while still others might choose to spread days off throughout the year.

Worried about a twenty-something service tech taking off for the beach in the middle of the heating season? Evidence suggests that workers are not abusing this approach to time off, but are actually even more mindful of how much time they are taking off.

Student Loan Repayment – Whether you are hiring college-educated management staff, or technical school graduates for the delivery or service department, many young people enter the workforce weighed down with educational debt. But working out a way to lift some (or all) of this burden is no guarantee that an employee will stay with you forever. However, it can help to earn their respect and appreciation, boost loyalty, and ease the upward pressure on wages.

Wellness Focused Benefits – Millennials, along with many established employees, are showing a marked uptick in interest in their own health and well-being. It makes sense that traditional healthcare plans are not meeting their expectations. Some companies are subsidizing gym and health club memberships, offering nutritional and health education programs, smoking cessation classes, and supporting workers who pursue healthy life choices. The bonus is a workforce with fewer lost days to illness.

Lifestyle Benefits – The “work/life” balance has always seemed to be an “either/or” proposition – you were working, or you were not. But the line between work and home has been blurring for many occupations. Workers appreciated supportive benefits such as subsidized child care (or on-site child care), personal assistants who run errands for employees who don’t have the time, dogwalkers, inclusive events like family parties, and other time-saving, worry-easing services.

Regular Performance Assessments – We have all seen the cartoons and comic videos in which Millennials expect approval and “participation trophies” for minor work contributions. Those are inaccurate. Younger workers do, however, actively seek more regular feedback on how they are doing than the typical annual review. This reflects how the upcoming generation learns. Millennials need this feedback to feel engaged and involved, and thus are more likely to stay with an employer.

Personalized Benefits – It may be easier to find and fund a “one size fits all” benefits package. But it is much more appealing to employees if they can customize a plan to fit their specific needs. For example, a childless worker may have no use for a health plan that covers the needs of a family but would welcome a plan that includes veterinary coverage for a cherished pet. Or a parent might prefer to take extra time off during the summer when the children are home from school.

The energy industry is limited in meeting some of these new expectations for benefits. You can’t turn off a cold snap so that a delivery driver can spend a week exploring Cancun. The flexibility that is part of many of these desirable benefits may have to be deferred to the off season. Most employees will understand and comply with a reasonable trade-off.

What any employee, no matter what their age or experience, really wants is to be interested, engaged, and appreciated while doing their job. They want to know that their contribution is valued. Taking more of an interest in how and why employees work for your company will go a long way toward establishing a more stable relationship.

Martin Kirshner, CPA, MSA is the chair of the Energy Practice Group at Gray, Gray & Gray Certified Public Accountants and specializes in accounting, tax, and consulting for energy company owners. You can reach him by calling (781) 407-0300 or at

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