Generation Y surpassed Generation X this year, to become the largest population of employees in the workforce — more than one in three U.S. workers are between the ages of 18 and 34, according the Pew Research Center. And those 53.5 million millennials are influencing the benefits employers are offering.

Millennials want more customization, says Meredith Ryan-Reid, senior vice president of MetLife’s group, voluntary and worksite benefits. Employers feel the same: 54% rated benefits customization as extremely important, according to MetLife’s 13th annual employee benefits trends study.

Millennials like variety, so employers should offer a broad range of benefits, says Joe Ellis, senior vice president of CBIZ Benefits and Insurance Services. The same isn’t true for networks. Millennials aren’t particularly concerned with narrow networks — they go to whoever is included, Ellis says.

That’s a good thing, especially as more employers are reducing network accessibility as a way to cut costs. This year, 11% of employers introduced narrow network plans as a cost containment tactic, a 7% increase from 2014, according to the Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. recent benefits strategy and benchmarking survey. Cost-sharing and changing carriers were the most frequently used strategies for controlling health care costs.

Both methods have a limited shelf life. Only a certain amount can be pushed onto employees, and recent mergers have reduced the list of major U.S. health insurance companies to just three, says Bill Ziebell, executive vice president of Gallagher Benefit Services.

Also see: Brokers must become an ‘aggressive sentinel’ in wake of Anthem-Cigna merger

Employers are also using online enrollment, telemedicine and mandatory specialty pharmacy programs to rein in costs — but premiums are still rising. Six in 10 employers reported increases of 4% or more during their most recent renewal, Gallagher found, and 23% of respondents saw double-digit increases.

Many employers are focused on medical renewals and others are hampered by Affordable Care Act regulations, Ziebell says. “It’s hard to be strategic,” he says, and that’s exactly the help advisers need to give their clients. Advisers and their employer clients should take an all-inclusive look at benefits and have a plan for several years into the future, Ziebell says.

Millennials impacted by the recession

The recession had a big impact on millennials, who entered the job market at a tough time, and many aren’t relying on government safety nets being in place later in life, Ryan-Reid says. In fact, nearly one-quarter of Americans expect no Social Security benefits, a Bankrate.com survey found.

That has spurred millennials to take a greater interest in employer offerings. “They’re craving information,” Ryan-Reid says. However, some employers aren’t delivering.

Just 38.4% of millennials strongly agree that their company is effectively educating them about their benefits, the MetLife study found. When presented with the statement, “I am confident I made the right decisions at my last annual enrollment,” less than half of millennials, 48.5%, strongly agreed, compared to 54% of Gen X employees and 62% of baby boomers.

Access to information that’s easy to understand increases confidence among all generations, MetLife found. For millennails, they prefer education via their provider’s website, a benefits handbook and in-person meetings. “In general, most people prefer to talk to someone,” Ryan-Reid says. 

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