There are close to 83 million millennials living in the United States, and by the year 2020 those individuals will account for half of the nation’s workforce.
For many employers, these numbers can seem daunting as organizations often struggle to effectively attract and retain millennial talent. While millennials are unique in how they approach work and their careers, they are hardly the first generation to require a shift in how employers consider rewarding and retaining employees.
For example, Kim Lear founder of Inlay Insights, notes that while baby boomers are widely considered optimistic and idealistic, Generation X employees initially faced backlash when they entered the workforce due to their skeptical, independent approach to work.
Millennials, like those that came before them, are a product of their environment and motivated differently than others in the workforce. To keep them engaged and productive, organizations must adapt their benefits strategies accordingly and strike a balance between proven programs and new initiatives.
Understanding the millennial mindset
Millennials grew up in a time that saw the advent of technology as a tool for the masses and the internet became a social platform. Therefore, their approach to work is not only collaborative, but also uniquely attuned to the idea that with technology comes mobility and flexibility. Office environments that are set up as “hotels,” work-from-home opportunities, and programs such as job sharing are just as important as vacation time.
In tandem, this workforce views work itself as an extension of who they are personally and by default are more relationship-oriented than their predecessors, according to recent commentary from Lear.
Unlike baby boomers or Gen Xers, millennials are less hierarchical, uninterested in a traditional, structured career path and instead are focused on how to best represent themselves and their organizations. This blurring of professional and personal personas is undoubtedly a shift — one that speaks volumes about the mindset of the millennial workforce.
As part of that perspective, the social value of their work matters as well, and millennials crave the opportunity to give back to the world around them. A diverse group looking for more than a paycheck, millennials are driven by passion; a passion to enjoy what they do, a passion to help others, and a passion to add meaning to their everyday lives.
Money still matters
For all their differences, millennials also share similarities with other generations in the workforce today. Financial stability is just as important to millennials as it was to their parents and grandparents, for example, based on various research studies including a recent one by EdAssist.
Given millennials are the most debt-ridden generation we have ever seen thanks to the explosion in the cost of higher education — costs that have doubled in the last decade alone — this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
What may be surprising to learn is that millennials are more burdened by financial stress than other employees, and it affects their performance more than anyone else.
According to the Willis Towers Watson Global Benefit Attitudes Survey 2015/16, 53 percent of millennials are concerned about their personal financial situation and are two times as likely to let those concerns keep them from doing their best at their jobs. Perhaps that is why 48 percent are also interested in having their employer play a more active role in helping them to manage their finances.
Unfortunately, many organizations overlook benefits focused on financial security in favor of flashy perks. Tools and resources that can help the growing millennial workforce achieve financial stability in both the near and short term should now be a foundational element in any benefits package.
Some may argue that millennials are not interested in saving for retirement or other available financial tools. However, recent studies report that saving for retirement is a significant source of financial stress for millennials, with Schwab Retirement Plan Services recently finding that retirement is more stressful for millennials than monthly expenses, credit card debt or student loans.
It’s not that millennials aren’t interested in saving for retirement, they simply may not have the means to invest in it on top of all of the near-term debt/ payments on their plate. Employers need to do more to educate millennials on all of the resources available such as voluntary and flexible benefit programs (HSAs being a prime example) and the specific value they bring to a millennial’s unique financial situation.
Balancing the benefits
To engage millennial employees successfully, organizations need to take the time to understand their stressors, strive to address their unique set of priorities, and offer the needed support. Structuring the benefit offering to be more creative including flexible work options and volunteering incentives is just one part of the equation. Employers also need to showcase the proven tools and strategies available such as HSAs, health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and other voluntary programs to propel employees towards financial stability.
Related: The millennial work martyr
Here are three ways employers can ensure benefit programs meet the needs of a millennial workforce:
1. Lead with transparency: Facilitation and access of information is powerful, especially for millennials. Employees may be aware that they can take advantage of HSA benefits, but how many understand that these accounts can do more than absorb shocks associated with unexpected healthcare expenses? Employees need to be educated on how HSAs serve as an investment vehicle to accumulate retirement savings. This is increasingly important as estimates for average medical costs in retirement continue to climb, rising to $260,000 for the average 65-year-old couple retiring in 2016 (a six percent jump over last year) according to Fidelity. Communicating the value and nuances of these programs can meet millennials’ need for transparency and increase their participation in such benefits.
2. Rely on multiple touchpoints: Often the flurry of information about HSAs and HRAs is only distributed before open enrollment. Three months down the road, communication drops off and employees are left with a baseline understanding of how to make their benefits work for them. Adopt a process of continuous touchpoints through HR and outside resources and reach out to employees throughout their tenure. It is critical to reach employees with informational resource when they will be making pivotal financial decisions—and that does not end at open enrollment.
3. Strive for social, but prioritize privacy: Arranging gatherings, like happy hours where speakers address financial topics and attendees can support one another, work well to raise awareness of and engagement in employer programs. However, as social and relationship-oriented as the millennial workforce may be, they also value privacy more than other generations. Underscore a commitment to information sharing and education but eliminate any measures that may be perceived as too intrusive.
Financial health, job success, and personal growth are inextricably linked in the mind of the millennial worker. And yet, they don’t view benefits in a wildly different way than those who came before them. Financial stability matters as much as the opportunity to work flexible hours and take paid time off to volunteer.
As such, for organizations considering how to address this workforce, structuring a benefit offering to attract and retain talent shouldn’t require a total overhaul of the benefit strategy. Instead, a better understanding of how millennials are motivated should yield a careful balance between traditional benefit practices and new ideas. By outlining the benefit opportunities available and their specific value to millennials, employers will be well suited to engage, motivate and grow their millennial workforce.