How to speak (benefits) to any generation

By Sheryl SImmons, Chief Human Resources Officer

I don’t know about you, but it drives me crazy when I read articles that just list the stereotypes of millennials and baby boomers without giving any useful information. Not all millennials are entitled. Not all generation X employees are lazy. Not all baby boomers are out of touch. In fact, they have much more in common than you might expect. There are great people who are born in each of these generations. So it’s time we stop and ask ourselves – are the stereotypes really generational or are they situational?

When I was asked to speak on bridging generational gaps at last week’s Health Benefits Conference & Expo (HBCE), I made it my mission to provide information that people could incorporate into their benefits process that acknowledges unique generational situations. While we did have a lot of fun discussing stereotypes, we all learned a lot about how to use that information to change the way we speak about benefits in regards to each generation’s situation.

How to speak millennial (when it comes to benefits).
During open enrollment, it’s important to take into consideration that this may be the first time many millennials are signing up for benefits. This makes education key, as they’ll likely be unfamiliar with even the most common terminology, and they will be looking for coaching from those who have been in the workforce longer.

An online, consumer-like shopping experience is also a must. Millennials were raised in the age of technology, so naturally they expect to shop for their employee benefits just like they shop for everything else – online. However, it’s not enough to just simply have an online shop for benefits enrollment. They expect it to be intuitive and people-friendly, which benefits shopping has historically been the opposite. If your tech vendor isn’t providing this, it may be time for a change.

To speak like a millennial, one must also think like a millennial. If you’re no longer in your twenties, just think about one of the biggest concerns you had while first entering the workforce – how to get money in the bank. In fact, many millennials are drowning in student loan debt. Here’s a scary fact – the class of 2016 was expected to have the most debt, an average of $37,172. With that in mind, consider a personalized approach to educating millennials about their most financially beneficial options. For example, provide them with information on benefit accounts, like a Health Savings Account, and the advantages they offer when paired with a High Deductible Health Plan.

How to speak generation X (when it comes to benefits).
Unfortunately generation X has become the forgotten generation. While there are approximately 55 million people in generation X, they are overshadowed by millennials and baby boomers in the media. However, this is no reason to leave them out of your benefits communication strategy.

Just like millennials, generation X employees expect an online shopping experience, but they want their benefits experience to come fully loaded with resources. They expect online tools, like cost calculators and blogs to assist them in their research, because they tend to be more self-reliant (their generation coined the term "latch-key kid" after all).

Another trend amongst generation X employees is that they value choices, especially if it provides them with an added feeling of safety. In fact, generation X employees demonstrate more of an interest in voluntary benefits, like vision and even pet insurance, than their millennial and baby boomer counterparts. They’re also just as interested in financial wellness as their millennial counterparts – they’re struggling to eliminate their credit card debt and are losing sleep because they're leaning on their retirement funds for day-to-day living expenses.

How to speak baby boomer (when it comes to benefits).
While baby boomers are getting older (every day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65), that doesn’t mean they’re ready to ease into retirement. In fact, many baby boomers are heading down a second career path. So don’t make the mistake of leaving baby boomers out of your benefits communication strategy.

While it’s typical for people to assume that baby boomers aren’t as tech savvy as younger generations, this doesn’t mean you should completely discount their tech skills. In fact, a third of baby boomers consider themselves heavy internet users. They’re also into their tech gadgets – 33 percent of all tablets are owned by adults over the age of 50. So you can expect them to turn to the web as part of their benefits election decision making process. Baby boomers will arm themselves with information by consuming content, like webinars, videos and blog posts.

Just because you can count on baby boomers to do their homework online, that doesn’t mean you can forgo face-to-face support or printed materials. They still value in-person support and the opportunity to ask questions. If your HR department doesn’t have the bandwidth to provide this type of support, there is still a way for you to offer this employee assistance. Tech vendors that offer a robust, personalized enrollment experience that includes onsite enrollment services is the ideal solution, as it provides support on multiple channels.

Take your (benefits) speak to the next level.
Consider everything above the multi-generational language 101 synopsis. But the conversation (pun intended) doesn’t need to end there. As I mentioned before, I presented on this topic during HBCE last week. I covered the simple ways to take this generation specific info and easily apply for any HR department by “thinking like a marketer.” You can download the full presentation here or tweet me @Maestro_Simmons if you’re looking for more advice on boosting your communication strategy. And for those of you who attended the session at HBCE, be sure to like Maestro Health on the “Bookface.”