They’re now the largest generation in the workforce, but the business world is still trying to figure out millennials and what they want. It’s complicated. They are unlike any of the generations that preceded them. Understanding how to recruit, work with and retain millennials may be one of the biggest challenges HR faces today.

Although they are stereotyped in many ways — including believing they are entitled, tied to their smartphones, selfie-obsessed, job-hoppers, digitally-addicted and much more — recruiting and keeping millennials isn’t about pampering them and “giving in.” Instead, it’s about understanding them and what motivates them, and addressing their differences.

Bloomberg/file photo

The benefits and perks that employees today truly care about are those that offer greater flexibility, autonomy, and the ability to lead a better life. Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workforce Survey reported that millennials want benefits and perks that directly impact their lives and the lives of their family members. And they show a greater willingness than other generations to switch jobs to secure them.

In fact, millennials will change jobs solely for a particular benefit or perk. According to an Anthem Life Insurance Company survey, one in three millennial workers has turned down a job offer due to insufficient or lackluster health insurance.

As millennials age, traditional benefits become more important. The Anthem Survey showed that as more millennials begin to get married, purchase homes and start families, they are slowly warming to the idea of disability coverage.

They also expect a broader range of healthcare services than they are currently offered. An Oliver Wyman Survey on U.S. Health Consumers Worries and Wants showed that millennials are not opposed to paying for high-tech and high-touch healthcare experiences, such as an on-camera visit with a doctor or an app that enables a consultation with specialists. Further, more than half (55%) of millennials say their highest-ranking healthcare offering is guaranteed appointments with a specialist within a week.

When recommending benefits to your clients, consider what’s important to include within an employee benefits package that resonates with millennials. Here are five tips to keep in mind:

1) Give them options. Millennials are an “on-demand” generation. Consequently, they expect to be given a laundry list of benefits options so they can choose what’s useful to them. By offering a variety of voluntary benefits employers provide a means for millennials to customize their benefits package, choosing options that are more important to them.

Most employers today are adding or expanding voluntary benefits to attract millennials including critical illness insurance, employee purchase programs, identity theft protection and pet insurance. Additionally, as the generation most likely planning families or already having children at home, millennials will look for worksite child care and back-up child care benefits that attract and retain them.

To be successful in recruiting and retaining millennials, employers must abandon one-size-fits-all benefits programs and one-size-fits-all methods of communicating those benefits. Just as a business would customize its sales and service activities to a new target audience for its products or services, employers must tailor recruitment and retention efforts to be successful with millennials.

2) Don’t ignore student loan debt. According to ORC International, more than two-thirds of millennials have at least $10,000 in student debt and one-third of those owe more than $30,000.

With the amount of student loan debt that most millennials carry, it’s no wonder that student loan repayment programs are a powerful incentive for their recruitment and retention. But according to SHRM’s 2016 Employee Benefits Survey, only 4% of employers were offering this assistance.

Beginning this year, student loan repayment benefits will be appearing more frequently in the employee benefits mix, including programs in which employers are making contributions to loan balances or providing methods for employees to refinance their debt.

3) Address financial wellness. Millennials have a significant amount of financial stress:
· 7 in 10 carry balances on their credit cards, with 45% using those credit cards for monthly expenses they couldn’t afford otherwise. (PwC)
· Almost half (47%) of millennials don’t have $2,000 in savings for emergencies. (Harris Poll)
· Half (52%) of millennials have experienced a “cash trap” in the last three months, meaning that they’ve had to borrow money or dip into savings to make it to the next paycheck. (Varo Money)

Understandably, they bring this financial stress to work. According to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2017 Workplace Benefits Report, 31% of millennials spend three to five hours at work each week on personal finances, while 29% spend more than five hours. The good news is that millennials want help managing a range of financial matters. The No. 1 issue they are concerned about is saving for retirement, followed by developing good general savings habits and paying down debt. And of all the generations, millennials are the most amenable to participating in financial education programs, with 92% saying they would use such a wellness program at work if one is offered.

This presents an opportunity for employers. While financial wellness programs have not yet reached the level of penetration of other longstanding benefit offerings, a Charles Schwab survey indicates that 52% of employers have implemented or are considering implementing a financial wellness program; and 44% believe that a financial wellness program is becoming a “must-have” benefit in order to be competitive.

In addition to financial education programs covering budgeting, debt management, buying a home and starting a savings plan, benefits such as employee purchase programs and employee discount programs help millennials access products and services they need and want in a more financially-disciplined manner.

4) Show them the value. Millennials either aren’t aware of or are confused by many of their benefit options — so they don’t use them. They have low participation rates in employee benefits and are less likely to know about their employees’ benefits than other generations.

What works to engage millennials with their benefits? Millennials will likely ignore older methods of sharing benefit information (such as mass email and regular mail) that are still the norm in many companies. Unlike other generations for which “push” communications worked just fine, millennials want “pull” communications. They want access to information all the time, via mobile, tech-friendly products that fit with their lifestyles.

And millennials need more than information — they need to see the value. They need an explanation or illustration on why it matters — how a particular benefit will help them now or in the future. Total compensation statements also can increase millennials’ benefits usage by creating a clear understanding of the package value.

5) Communicate their way. Communicating with millennials should be done in a way that will make the most impact, capture their limited attention spans and stand out among competing information. Because millennials spend so much time on their smartphones, their benefits education and enrollment process should be provided on these devices, in a format that’s simple and familiar to them.

Highlight benefits in the employee benefits package that make the most sense for millennials and provide information in bite-size portions. Lay out content so it is easily scan-able.

Work open enrollment information into their daily news feed, sharing information that’s easily accessed from their phones, where they can quickly scan and click embedded links to a site where they can take action. Capture their attention via texts, ad tiles, banners and videos. Personalize and humanize messages as much as possible. Instead of using third person, address them directly, using the word “you.”

Include real-life benefit examples that allow millennials to better understand. Hearing from their peers can make an impact, so create a brief video of a millennial employee talking about a specific benefit.

When communicating benefits to millennials, highlight ease of use and digital mobility features. For example, many may not realize that some consumer-directed benefits, including HSAs and FSAs, can be easily managed by downloading an app.

In addition to involving technology to deliver information, they also value personal conversation and content coming from familiar sources, such as managers and peers. Peer-to-peer communication can be an invaluable tool in reaching millennials.

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