Our country’s young adults have officially taken over the workforce. Millennials are 75.4 million strong and compose nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce — and that number will continue to grow. The 19- to 35-age range is set to make up half of our workforce by 2030.

Despite a reputation for being well-educated and tech-savvy, research shows that millennials have low participation rates in employee benefits and are less likely to know about their employers’ benefits compared to other age groups.

So how do HR professionals encourage employees — of all ages — to take advantage of consumer-directed benefits, such as health savings accounts, healthcare and dependent care flexible spending accounts and commuter benefits? It’s no small task. In order to educate millennials about their benefits options and drive participation, HR leaders need to be deliberate about what information is sent to employees, how it is delivered and why they should care.

Hitting “send” on the right platform

Millennials certainly like their mobile devices — 77 % own a smartphone. In addition, this age group accounts for 41% of the total time that all Americans spend using smartphones. In order to communicate with millennials, it must be done in a way that will make the most impact, capture their limited attention spans and stand out among competing information. Open enrollment and year-round benefits should be no different. 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.

It’s important to go beyond face-to-face benefits meetings and paper-based communications, as millennials consume information differently than previous generations — they are accustomed to being fed bite-sized pieces of information. Aim to 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. By capturing their attention via emails, ad tiles, banners and videos, you can creatively communicate how the benefits work, how to enroll and how employees can save money by taking advantage of offerings like commuter benefits.

When communicating these benefits to employees, highlight ease of use and mobility features that will appeal to millennials. For example, many may not realize that some consumer-directed benefits, including HSAs and FSAs, can be easily managed by downloading an app. The WageWorks EZ Receipts mobile app, for example, allows benefits participants to manage their benefits accounts from anywhere—with the ability to snap and submit photos of receipts, file claims electronically, and view transactions and account balances right from their phones.

Focus on the benefits that matter most to millennials
Because of their current stage of life —perhaps living in a big city, earning entry-level or mid-level income and living without any dependents — millennials’ ideal benefits package will likely look different than that which is appropriate for an executive with a family of four.

Rather than giving an all-encompassing overview of every potential benefit offered to employees, HR leaders should highlight those that make the most sense for millennials and provide information in bite-size portions. It’s also important to be transparent about true costs. Millennials tend to be reluctant to enroll if they are unsure about how the benefits work, how they save and their out-of-pocket costs. Benefits communications should include real-life savings examples that allow millennials to better understand how pre-tax contributions can lead to significant annual savings and potential savings for retirement if HSAs are offered. For example, outlining to employees how an employee making an annual salary of $60,000 can take home $2,025 in tax savings by contributing the maximum amount to an HSA when paired with a high-deductible health plan, may peak their interest.

As for which benefits to focus on, FSAs and commuter benefits are typically home runs for millennials. Many millennials are not flush with cash, so they love how FSAs can help alleviate out-of-pocket healthcare expenses like prescriptions and copayments. Commuter benefits are particularly appealing for city-dwelling millennials, as they allow employees to save money on routine commuting costs via public transportation and even ride-sharing services like uberPOOL. Whether employees are living solo in the city or commuting to and from work from their parents’ homes in the suburbs, commuter benefits are a great way for millennials to put extra money in their pockets each month.

Looking ahead: Anticipating and educating on future benefits needs
While employees’ younger years present a great opportunity to save money while moving their way up the career ladder, millennials’ benefits needs will transform as their lives change.

Once millennials get married, they may want to increase annual contributions to HSAs or FSAs, as pre-tax funds can be used for eligible healthcare costs for spouses. Not long after that, millennials may benefit from a dependent care FSA to cover childcare costs or elderly care for aging parents.

Additionally, as millennials jumpstart 401(k) savings, they should also be aware of how HSAs can act as a 401(k) for healthcare. Projected healthcare costs in retirement show a massive increase, so millennials need to be prepared and start saving now to prevent unexpected costs that could cause them to dip into their savings for medical reasons.

Open enrollment can be a stressful time of year for both HR leaders and employees, but with the right preparation and tools, HR leaders can engage with millennial employees in a way that helps them save money in the short-term and better prepare financially for their futures.

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Britta Meyer

Britta Meyer

Britta Meyer serves as Chief Marketing Officer at WageWorks.