“Millennials” is a term tossed around seemingly everywhere thesedays with articles promising Ouija board-like intel on what makesthis seemingly indecipherable generation tick.

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But the truth is that all people, even millennials, areindividuals — each has his or her own individual desires, needs,motivations, and concerns.

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It is essential to understand each individual has a unique setof values that define who they are and the unique circumstancesthat inform the way in which they make a buying decision. Thisholds true for employee benefit programs: HR and benefits pros mustfirst and foremost acknowledge the individuality and uniqueness ofthe employee, regardless of their generational label, and thentransform their approach to the benefits they provide to bettermeet that reality.

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But there are common themes within the millennial generationthat come up again and again that account for how they view theirworld; and understanding those themes is essential to understandingtheir needs and harnessing their potential.

Changing times

According to Pew Research, 1 in 3 workers today is part of themillennial generation. While the exact years vary depending on thesource, generally speaking millennials were born between 1980 and2000 — which means even more of them will be entering the workforcein the coming years.

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Why should that matter to employers? After all, generationalchanges have happened for as long as companies have existed. Thedifference with millennials is three-fold:

  • Millennials’ career expectations aredrastically different than generations before them

  • Millennials are poised to become the most effective, efficient,and strategic generation that the workforce has seen

  • The collective experiences of millennials have drasticallyshaped what they value and how they are likely to purchaseinsurance-related products

Photo: iStock

The millennial reality

When previous generations entered the workforce, the generalexpectation was that they would do better economically than theirparents. That is not the case today with millennials.

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An average millennial college graduate is saddled with roughly$35,000 in student loan debt. Millions more who attended college but didn’tgraduate also face staggering amounts of student loan debt … withno diploma to show for what often becomes a de facto lifelongmortgage.

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Despite being the most-educated generation ever, millennialsentering the workforce in the 2000s were hurt by several severeshocks from a weak economy. Wages were so low that for thefirst time in recent history, living with their parents was at the top ofliving arrangements for a single generation. And many millennialsstill struggle with basic life expenses, so much so that often theyare choosing to remain on their parent’s medical plans for as longas possible (up to age 26).

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One final factor: Millennials are also far more likely tochange jobs than preceding generations, makingit more challenging to attract and especially retain great talent. Engaging themwith benefit options that match their needs and life outlook is atransformational challenge for today’s organizations.

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All of this may seemingly paint a bleak picture for HR andbenefit pros and brokers trying to understand what benefits willprove, well, most beneficial to millennials. Given their lot inlife so far, it’s understandable why millennials are more focusedon the tangible here-and-now, than they are with anticipating theuncertainty of what is to come over the long term.

Let’s get digital

Another significant difference is that millennials never knew aday without computers. They grew up with social media as part oftheir DNA and continue to embrace the concept of using digitalplatforms to express themselves in a blurring of their professionaland personal lives.

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Think about it: Millennials view filling out paper forms andreading through hard-copy information the way boomers and Gex X-ersview going to a well to obtain water to drink, cook, and bathe.

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This embrace of communications and work technology alsotransforms the way millennials blend their work and personal lives,compared to previous generations. They check email constantly, evenif they wake up in the middle of the night, are on vacation,attending a family gathering, or at some other non-workfunction.

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Basically, there isn’t such a thing as office or business hoursany more — the demands of their job are omnipresent, in the office,at home, at the ball fields with their kids, or on a night out withtheir spouse.

Photo: iStock

Going deep into the millennial psyche

In exchange for this ”always on” dedication, Millennials expect— indeed, demand — to be able to take care of personalbusiness during traditional work hours, whether that means going tothe doctor’s office in the middle of the day, leaving early to meetup with friends, or working from home or the local Starbucks.

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This represents a fascinating look deep into the psyche ofmillennials. They don’t want to just work hard — they want to berecognized and rewarded for workinghard. They want to feel their company sees them asspecial individuals, rather than cogs in the machine pushing outwickets. And it wants the company to invest in helping them achievepersonal successes as well as professional — not just one at theexpense of the other.

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Unlike previous generations that expected once-a-year performance review, inmoving through the career paths of today’s fast-moving corporateworld, millennials crave immediate and constant feedback, real-timecoaching and mentoring from supervisors. The more they believethe organization is helping them develop and improve their skillsand performance, the happier they are.

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When you take all of those generational factors into account, itquickly becomes apparent that traditional benefits such as medicalhealthcare plans won’t hold as much appeal to millennials as theydid to previous generations.

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This is especially true for those living at home and still ontheir parents’ health plan. A young, healthy person with no spouseor child-raising responsibilities may not see much need foranything beyond catastrophic health coverage. When you’re alreadystruggling to make ends meet your eye is more on what’s in front ofyou than what might be down the road.

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What does appeal greatly to them, however, are benefits thathelp them achieve greater health and financial security, especiallyones that have an immediate and tangible impact to their bottomline.

Photo: iStock

Building a millennial portfolio of benefits

Vision care is just one example of the type of voluntary benefits that makeorganizations more attractive to millennials. Roughly 75 percent of all adults need some form ofvision correction. Getting an eye exam and purchasing glasseswithout insurance costs around $600 on average.

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That’s a big hit to take for a millennial who is alreadystruggling to pay for everyday living expenses. Particularly inlight of a study that showed millennials is the generationleast-prepared to meet unexpected financial costs.

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Offering vision benefits that cost only a few dollars per monthadds tremendous value to a benefits portfolio.

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So how do employers make sure that they are using benefits tomeet the needs of millennials as well as all generationsrepresented in their workforce while also accounting for the factthat all employees are individuals and have unique needs andcircumstances?

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Employers and brokers need to start viewing employee benefits asa way to provide employees with a custom-made portfolio of productsby offering many different options to suit many differentneeds. This portfolio approach to benefits allow employees tocustomize the products that are best for themselves and theirfamilies.

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Voluntary and other types of non-traditional benefits, such as gymmemberships, wellness programs, tuition reimbursement, transitbenefits, dental, and the ability to take advantage of flex time orworking virtually at least part of the time helps employees developa package that will enhance their health and financial security.But a customized benefits package rings especially true formillennials, because it meets them where they are in their livesand on their budget.

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Photo: iStock
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Through the portfolio approach, organizations are acknowledgingthat employees are individuals with their own unique needs andchallenges, and that they may not all value the same things. Thatis a bold statement for an employer to make and one that will givethem access to a dynamic, diligent and hard-working employee poolof millennials.

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Want to have an even greater impact with millennials in thecompetition for their skills? Then making those benefits easy tounderstand and easy to use through technology platforms.And make sure information and outreach are available throughout theyear, rather than just during the enrollment period, to ensuremillennials understand and are able to maximize the value of theirbenefits.

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And the same is true for brokers who want to grow their books ofbusiness by adding voluntary benefits. It is essential that brokersprovide voluntary benefits in a way that is easily understandablewhile also encouraging employees to use the products they’repurchasing (except, of course, for catastrophic type plans).

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Leveraging the power of a comprehensive digital platform is theeasiest way to achieve this, and also prevents overloading analready stressed HR professional or broker.

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There are several other tips and tricks millennials findvaluable as well.

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For instance, advice provided online about whether to stay innetwork or go out of network for services will make their lifeeasier, not to mention helping their pocketbooks. Also, movingservices online that millennials would normally have to go out oftheir way for, such as shopping for glasses, helps them feelengaged within their organization — and reminds them of theintrinsic value your organization brings to their lives throughouteach and every day.

Tying the threads together

These are just a few of the threads of continuity that runthrough the experiences and expectations of the individuals whocollectively make up the generation labeled the “millennials.”

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It is important for benefits pros and brokers to transform theirorganizations benefits offerings to align better with what both theindividual and the generational millennials value — benefits thatreflect the real world in which all generations in today’sworkforce think about the interconnections between their careers,their employers, and their personal lives.

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