November 6, 2017
FOCUS: Employee Benefits

Millennial demands driving next generation of employee benefits

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Younger workers, like the OneDigital employee shown above, yearn for benefits like flexible schedules. They also want to access benefits digitally.
Cigna offers workers digital access to beneifts.

Earlier this year, Bloomfield health insurance giant Cigna unveiled a new policy that allows employees to take up to four weeks of paid leave for needs such as caring for a newborn or an ill family member.

The company also recently implemented its community ambassadors fellowship program, which provides eligible employees an opportunity to take a sabbatical-style paid leave to work on community projects that advance Cigna's mission.

"Creating this sense of ownership and community to an entire employee base is rare among large, publicly traded companies," said Greg Hicks, vice president of human resources for Cigna's U.S. commercial and global healthcare operations. "Typically, [these benefits] only happen among Silicon Valley-style startups."

While not all employers offer such cutting-edge perks, the spectrum of benefits available to employees across corporate America, and at some small- to medium-size employers, has largely expanded in the 21st century. And increasingly a key motivation behind the newest benefits is appealing to Millennials.

With waves of Baby Boomers heading toward retirement, employers are seeking to attract and retain the 75 million-member Millennial generation, born between roughly 1982 and 2002, as their future workforce — and the benefits landscape is being rewritten in the process.

Companies are trying to entice those younger workers, who are making up an increasingly larger percentage of the workforce, with flexible schedules, casual dress codes, portable health savings accounts and tuition reimbursement, among other perks.

"Twenty years ago, no one offered more than one plan," said John Lyon, president of employee benefits practice leader at USI Insurance Services. "Today, it's typical to see two or three dental plans, health plans, and vision plans with a wide range of coverages."

As the number of benefit options has expanded, so too has Millennials' demands for technology-based opportunities to explore what's available. For a generation that does much of its shopping online through retailers like Amazon, Lyon said, young professionals today are looking for a similar shopping experience when comparing and pricing their benefits.

Cigna's Hicks said his company, for instance, offers employees Cigna One Guide.

"It uses anticipatory computing principles to anticipate users' needs and preferences and gives personalized solutions that can improve employees' health and save them money," he said.

And it's not just in purchasing benefits that Millennials are demanding technology; it's also in how they use their benefits, through online options like telemedicine.

"One of the main things Millennials are looking for from their employer is flexibility and convenience," said Rebecca Plavcan, a senior account manager with Farmington-based OneDigital Health and Benefits.

Telemedicine, which has become a common offering among healthcare providers, not only reduces the cost of care, but appeals greatly to a Millennial generation accustomed to interacting with friends and family through Skype or FaceTime.

"Telemedicine allows users to interact with their medical provider and have their conditions diagnosed and treated and never have to leave their house," Plavcan said. "And for Millennials looking for flexible work schedules and remote working, [telemedicine] enables them to get their care from wherever they are."

That level of convenience is also finding its way into corporate offices, too, with many larger companies adding on-site health clinics to provide employees access to no-cost, convenient health care. That's a big plus for Millennials.

According to 2017 survey data from Ipsos and Aminos, a market research company, 27 percent of Millennials said they will put off a doctor's visit to avoid high costs; 50 percent said they have received a medical bill for which they didn't budget.

While a majority (60 percent) of Millennials view health insurance as their most important benefit, according to research from the Employer Benefits Research Institutes (EBRI), they are also more likely — by a 2 to 1 margin, EBRI data found — to value time off more than their Baby Boomer colleagues.

"Increased leave policies, flex time and the opportunity to purchase additional paid time off are benefits that work well with Millennials," said USI's Lyon.

Company programs that connect younger workers with mentors are also on the rise.

At Berlin-based Eversource, the company's new hires business resource group and ambassadors program helps employees make connections and navigate the organization, a real plus for Millennial employees who typically have less workforce — and networking — experience on their resumes, said Christine Carmody, Eversource's vice president of human resources and information technology.

"These programs help support the retention of new employees," Carmody said. "Insightful companies are realizing the importance of supporting and leveraging programs like these for everything from recruiting to retention."

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