Executives at global companies know they need to communicate with the millennial generation differently than previous ones. One key strategy has been the use of newer technology and social media, which the millennials grew up using. When it comes to communicating health benefits to millennials, however, these global decision-makers need to keep an eye on the best ways to reach millennials—particularly because the stakes are so high.
“Companies are challenged by rising medical costs way beyond pay inflation—typically 15 percent increases, but in some markets, by as much as 30 percent,” says Chris Bruce, managing director of Thomsons Online Benefits. “They’re also challenged by the fact that millennials are not looking at their employers as employers for life or as individuals who need to be paternalistic because they’re not foreseeing a long-term relationship.”
The recent changes under the Affordable Health Care Act make communication even more crucial. As one of the healthiest demographics in the workforce, young employees were previously some of the first to pass on health insurance. With health insurance no longer optional, many millennials find themselves at a loss when trying to decode the benefits packages offered to them.
“Somewhere between 40 and 44 percent of millennials say that they don’t understand their [insurance] policies completely,” says Matthew Owenby, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Aflac. This is true of other age groups as well, but Owenby says that millennials are more inclined to reject older methods of sharing benefit information (such as mass email and regular mail) that are still the norm in many organizations.
Global companies are beginning to change communication standards and adapt to the younger generation’s needs. Here are some effective steps they are taking to communicate health benefits to millennials:
Tech it Out
One of the best ways to engage the millennial workforce in a conversation about benefits is to commit to using and understanding the same technology that they use daily. Experiment with messaging via social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram and keep a pulse on preferred technologies as they change over time.
“In the past, we used to send out a lot of things via email and from our CEO, and what we find now is that email, although good for some communication, is not really what millennials tend to focus on,” says Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose officer for PricewaterhouseCoopers. More than half of Schuyler’s coworkers fall into the Generation-Y category, and a large part of her job involves engaging and interacting with this segment of the workforce. Her organization sometimes opts to use Twitter and Instagram to deliver messages to millennials, in hopes of transforming one-way communications into conversations.
Owenby expresses similar sentiments about email and adds, “The previous generation was okay with push communications, but millennials want pull communications, meaning that they want access to information all the time, via mobile, tech-friendly products that fit with their lifestyles. They want to know exactly where they stand on their benefits outside of the annual enrollment process.”
Tech-savviness is a particularly positive step because it also enables employers to not only communicate with millennials, but to prepare themselves to interact with the generation that comes after them. That doesn’t mean all correspondence should be digital. Rather, it means that using evolving technology is one piece of a larger puzzle of effective communication with a younger generation.
What is the secret to reaching the younger generation? Personalize, personalize, personalize.
“There’s a lot that millennials want to do that involves technology, but the personal conversation is something they value even more,” Schuyler says. millennials are not only looking for messaging directed at them specifically, but they also want content to come from familiar sources such as managers and peers who can answer any questions they have about their health plans.
“If we have a new benefits program that’s rolled out, millennials usually won’t access it if it’s sent by the CEO or if it was sent by the market managing partner,” Schuyler says. “It has to be something that they’re getting from a peer of theirs or someone directly above them in the chain of command. They tend not to prefer firm-wide messaging at all.”
Gone are the days when a stand-alone corporate education video or online portal would suffice; Generation Y doesn’t want to hear primarily from a block of text or an actor— they want to hear from a real person who knows them or is at least familiar with their job functions and able to explain the health plan as it applies to them.
Thomsons’ Chris Bruce explains: “Within the group called ‘millennials,’ there are lots of different types of people It’s all about presenting each person the information and engaging them in a conversation, as if they were talking to a trusted friend. They need to understand the impact of the decision they’re about to make and the benefits of what the company is trying to give them.”
Keep the Conversation Going
Once the benefits conversation has started, it is important that it doesn’t become merely an annual or even a biannual occurrence. Employees should have a full understanding of their options before the enrollment period begins.
As Aflac’s Owenby says, “You can’t use a sort of ‘one-and-done’ communication strategy [on millennials]. There has to be a comprehensive plan, and the ability to have on-demand, mobile-charged benefits communications and offerings. Most companies wait until a couple of months before annual enrollment to start talking about benefits but like to continue to present the benefits as an ongoing feature to our employee base because we want to remind people that the benefits that we offer are valuable to them.”
If a millennial employee is new to the process of annual enrollment or even just new to the company, HR and their managers should offer an open-door policy about benefits-related questions. That way, the employee is more likely to feel prepared and confident in their health plan elections.
Ask and You Shall Receive
If you as an employer want to know more about practical strategies for reaching out to millennials about health benefits, the best thing to is just that: to reach out and ask them.
Research suggests that millennials are a very communicative and health-conscious generation. They enjoy sharing opinions and discussing ideas on a variety of platforms and will likely be more than happy to contribute to conversation that concerns their health, wellness, and financial independence.
“Ask them what they want,”PwC’s Schuyler suggests. For years, companies pushed out messages the same way they always did, but we’ve found that if we have a big campaign we want to push out, we need groups of millennials to come in so we can ask them, ‘How would you best learn this?’ It becomes more of a dialogue, which is really helpful in not just assuming you have the right approach, but knowing that you do because your stakeholders are in the room with you as you’re making the decision.”
By allowing Generation Y to have a say in how they receive information, organizations also empower younger employees to carry that message to their peers and in turn, facilitate the communication process in the future. Bottom line: Peer-to-peer communication is an invaluable tool in reaching millennials in a professional space.