How Millennials Are Redefining Benefits

Raised in a generation accustomed to convenience, 20-somethings have high expectations for their purchasing experiences — especially when it comes to health benefits.

One of the benefits of a job like mine is the ability to freelance, work for yourself (the ultimate dream!), but the idea of doing it full time terrifies me. More and more of my journalist friends have hopped on that bandwagon lately, and I always ask: “What do you do about health insurance?!?” It may seem surprising for my age group to be concerned about this or value health insurance as much as I do, but I’m alone. Did you know millennials find health insurance to be one of the most important factors when picking a job, and more specifically, want high deductible health plans (even though they’re the least likely to use it)?

I spoke with Melody Healy, senior vice president and chief strategy and integration officer of VSP Vision Care, which provides vision and eye care benefits, about what kind of health care benefits millennials are looking for, how that’s changing the health care industry, and the learning and development that comes along with the changes. Below are edited excerpts from our interview.

Let’s talk broadly about millennials and benefits. What do we know?

Healy: According to projections recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 is the year millennials will surpass boomers as our nation’s largest living generation. Simultaneously, 53 percent of hiring managers say finding and retaining millennial staff is difficult. As you can imagine, this conundrum has sent benefit managers rushing to crack the code when it comes to offering the right mix of benefits to attract this young and incredibly diverse generation.

Melody Healy, VSP Vision Care
Melody Healy, VSP Vision Care

The good news is, even though millennials encompass a broad spectrum of demographics and mindsets, they collectively believe health is important. In fact, according to a 2013 Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll, three-quarters of those in Gen Y say that insurance is something they need. 

Is vision usually included in company packages? Why or why not?

Healy:For most employers, vision insurance is considered part of a standard comprehensive package designed to attract and retain employees of all generations. As the age group that is most associated with increasing levels of student debt, millennials want their benefits to help them save on out-of-pocket costs. One of the easiest ways for companies to do this is to include vision care in their benefits package. By partnering with an insurer that offers the lowest out-of-pocket costs for employees, companies are able to help this emerging workforce save money without overspending while companies save on benefit costs.

And remember, this is a generation whose lifestyle revolves around their digital devices. So it may be no surprise that 68 percent of millennials report technology-related eye or vision problems. Savvy employers are adapting vision benefits to meet the unique needs of this generation by offering, for example, computer vision glasses with blue light protection.

How are benefits packages changing over time as millennials take more control in the workplace?

Healy: For millennials, health and wellness involves a more holistic and proactive approach. It means looking beyond the dental and physical exam room walls and exploring things like wearable devices to reward active lifestyles, access to online communities supporting healthful living, offering sunwear benefits for critical UV protection, and supporting work/life balance, something 49 percent of millennials consider a key component to staying healthy.  

In addition to offering more choice when it comes to benefits, employers are beginning to offer more control. Consumers in general, but particularly millennials, want the power to decide how, when and what they spend their money on. It’s no different when it comes to their benefits. This means employers need to look at offering more personalized benefits to their employees if they want to keep them happy and healthy.

Millennials, spurred perhaps by their experiences with technology, expect to control the “settings” on as many different aspects of their life as possible. Consider the rise in made-to-order restaurants. Chipotle brought the assembly line to Mexican food and the resulting burrito is made exactly to your specifications. Now, benefit packages are following suit. New products are coming into the market that allow employees to sign up for a basic benefit and then select the covered upgrades based on their specific needs while at their doctor’s office.

Do you find millennials fully understand their benefits, or is more education required? What can companies do to educate employees on their benefits?

Healy: Millennials are 13 percent more likely than older adults to say they don’t have insurance because they don’t know how or where to sign up. And while some millennials feel the process is confusing, there is still a sentiment of gratitude and security when their health is covered. This creates an opportunity for companies to rethink, and even redesign, the way they communicate benefit offerings to employees.

To appeal to the millennial mindset, make it simple and make it social. From mobile-friendly tools to enrollment gamification, employers have an opportunity to create a positive employee experience and encourage company loyalty by infusing some fun into what’s traditionally been a mundane annual ritual.