A few years ago, Joe Navarro was looking for a way to make himself more marketable in the job market. He thought getting another degree would help him do that, so he started looking into all the options. After some thought and consideration, Navarro enrolled at the University of La Verne in La Verne, Calif., and started working on a master’s degree in gerontology.
It’s not an obvious choice—many benefits brokers and agents obtain advanced marketing degrees, MBAs or even liberal arts degrees—but Navarro says it was the right call. He learned about far more than just the elderly. He learned about the process of aging, and that helps him think about ways to communicate with the different generations currently represented in the American workplace.
“The primary reason was I was looking for something to add to my scope of experience and education,” says Navarro, who’s now the marketing director for Warner-Pacific in Westlake Village, Calif. “A lot of people think studying the aging process is studying old people. But you also study what happens as you age from birth to death. By doing so, I was able to concentrate on all the different generations, which made me able to present on the four generations because of the deeper understanding I had.”
For the first time in history, industry sources say, four generations of employees are present in the current work force—matures, baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y—and they all have different preferences when it comes to communication. A smart communications strategy that understands the four generations helps agents and brokers sign new clients and work with employees once they enroll in their company’s benefits plans.
“The one-size-fits-all approach does not fit at all anymore—it’s a whole different conversation with each generation,” Navarro says.
Matures can be defined as workers born before 1945. While many of these workers have retired, they still make up a considerable part of the work force as Americans live and work longer. Advances in medical care mean that many people in this generation remain productive workers well past the normal retirement age. Matures can also include workers who’ve retired and re-entered the work force, maybe because they’ve outlived their retirement savings.
Industry sources say matures prefer a more personal approach to communication with their benefits providers and in plan communications. Matures are less comfortable with electronic and mobile forms of communication and as well as interactions they view as impersonal.
“These are the people that have been influenced by World War II and the Great Depression — they like hard work and they’re private people,” explains Marsha Whitehead, vice president of marketing communications for retirement services at OneAmerica in Indianapolis, Ind. “The communications that we formulate are somewhat formal and very respectful, sort of serious. We did some research on this group to see what they like and they like that whoever is communicating with them take their financial security as seriously as they do. They like more face-to-face and more handholding. They don’t like the sales pitch. They’re direct and don’t want to waste time.”
“I have a couple clients that are older—they are an interesting bunch,” says Pavlina Sustr of IMA Corp in Denver. “They want the one-on-one interaction throughout the year. They don’t want it just once. They want to know in three months that they can come back to you. They lose comfort with the customer service part—they want to deal with one resource.”
If a broker takes the time to foster an in-person relationship with someone from this generation, though, it can pay off. Matures also believe that words mean something.
“They have time and they’re very social,” Navarro says of matures. “For that agent that plans to take the time and have a business plan to accommodate that, it’s a lucrative and large market.”
(Irene Olsen works in Milford, Conn. Olsen 95 works 20 hours a week at the Milford Senior Center to pay for rising taxes and utilities. AP Photo: Douglas Healey)
Generally defined as being born between 1945 and 1964, baby boomers are one of the largest segments of the American population. The size of the group has impacted the country in profound ways. For instance, baby boomers are beginning to retire, which has led to serious debate on the solvency of Social Security and the long-term affordability of Medicare. An industry stat claims that 10,000 baby boomers will retire every day for the next 19 years.
They are also called the “sandwich” generation. Many boomer families are taking in their parents while their children are coming home after college because of the weak job market, which means, Navarro says, that marketers have an opportunity to communicate with three different generations all living in the same household. Many boomers expect to work past the age of 65. Baby boomers were hit hardest by the economic downturn of 2008, with many seeing deep impacts to their retirement plans.
Brokers and agents can mix communications with boomers a bit. While they like person-to-person communications, they’ll also want details to arm themselves to make a decision. Boomers will take part in webinars, watch videos and use the Internet, too, but agents and brokers should be prepared to answer questions.
“Baby boomers are hard working, they like the terminology ‘we’ vs. ‘I,’ Whitehead says. “They’re pretty competitive, they like face-to-face and they’re pretty open and direct. They want details. They don’t want you to tell them what to do, they just want the information to make decisions.”
Brokers and agents looking to effectively communicate with boomers also should know that not all of them are as technically savvy as their children, something younger brokers and agents should keep in mind.
(Nancy Seagraves, 61, works at her computer at an AARP Foundation office in Columbus, Ohio. AP Photo: Kantele Franko)
Generation X refers to people born between 1965 and 1980. They are sometimes difficult to separate from Generation Y, or millennials, but they aren’t exactly alike. Members of Generation X seek to balance out work, family and friends and don’t trust the government and people in authority, according to MetLife’s 10th Annual Study of Workplace Benefits.
“People have always picked on Gen Xers because they don’t think they’ve contributed enough as the baby boomers or the matures,” Navarro says. “The reason for that is because that group is half as large.”
Most industry sources say that members of Generation X prefer online forms of communication and interaction. E-mail is the preferred medium, they say, but agents and brokers better be prepared to correspond electronically, too, as Gen Xers will want to ask questions over e-mail. They expect to get answers, too. Web tools such as tutorials and calculators work well with Generation X as well as blogs.
Generations X and Y are far more interested in voluntary benefits than their predecessors, sources say, because the generations grew up in world filled with uncertainly and scandal. When it comes to items such as long-term care or disability insurance, the younger generations tend to think it’s their responsibility to plan for those contingencies rather than rely on anyone else.
The same holds true for retirement planning. The sentiment that Social Security won’t last is especially strong among Gen Xers, but both younger generations want employers and benefits providers to provide more resources so they can learn how to plan for retirement themselves.
(photo credit: Ohmega1982)
Members of Generation Y were born after 1980. Millennials grew up with video games and tend to interact over their smart phones. Social media also plays as huge role in the life of a millennial.
“They’re very high tech, they sit in their world gaming a lot and don’t like authority. They do their own thing,” Whitehead says. “They do research on the web. They like challenging work but balanced with having fun. They’re more into texting and instant messaging as far as how what forms of communication they like.”
Brokers and agents should be prepared to use just about every kind of electronic communications tools they have, including social media, texting, instant messaging and email. Millennials place weight in online comments and messages boards, too.
“This is agnation that doesn’t want to be talked to, this is a generation that wants information and then will come back to you,” Sustr says. “They want the pamphlet, they want to go to the website, they want the app and they want to just go out and find it, do it and email questions. Once they’ve done that they’ll come back to talk to you. They’ll go out and read comments on websites and look at their Facebook comments and make decisions.”
Another thing to keep in mind about millennials is that they may be new to the benefits game. Sustr says one way Obamacare is impacting Generation Y is in the provision that children are allowed to stay on their parent’s health plans until age 26.
“We’re seeing some enrollees who tell us this is the first time they’ve ever had to learn about health care benefits because they’ve always been on their parents insurance,” Sustr says.
Also, Navarro adds, many Gen Y workers will have had 6-8 different jobs by the time they’re 30.
(photo credit: graur codrin)
Across the generations
New information about each generation seems to emerge every day. Most brokers and agents should do their best to stay abreast of all the information about their clients as they can, but it all basically comes down to understanding your audience.
“Be open minded and have the ability to put yourself in your audience’s shoes,” Sustr says. “Put yourself in their daily routine and see what their world is like. Also, be flexible and creative. I personally like to think I’ve had success with everyone because of the mix of my clients.”
Nathan Solheim is a Denver-area writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.