I recently returned from EBN’s Benefits Forum & Expo in Boca Raton, Fla., where the word of the week was definitely “millennials.”
Young employees and the impact they are making on the workplace — and on employee benefits in particular — was a common theme among keynote speakers, conference attendees and a host of other industry experts during the annual show. And for good reason: Millennials — as well as the close-behind Generation Z (those born after 1994) — are revolutionizing the workforce. And HR and benefit professionals best pay attention.
In particular, Gen Zers have a completely different approach to communication, technology and benefits preferences than previous generations. They will expect their companies to keep up with their needs, said Jim Link, chief human resources officer at Randstad North America, a recruitment and employment agency for temporary and permanent staffing.
“They’re going to be welcoming us into a whole new world of the workforce,” he said. For example, younger employees, he said, now care more about workplace flexibility than healthcare benefits, which means flexibility benefits will become all the more important.
Meanwhile, the millennial population suffers from depression and anxiety in record numbers, said Laurie Zaugg, chief operating officer of digital health platform Happify. That makes it all the more imperative for employers to act fast and to offer a variety of tools and benefits that promote emotional wellbeing.
But perhaps the biggest benefits trend the young generation of workers is driving is one that has historically been a blind spot for employers: Help with debt.
Combine overwhelming stress over finances and a lack of savings with $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and there’s no question employees are beginning to clamor for loan repayment assistance. In one session, David Aronson, founder of the student loan administrator Peanut Butter, noted that 26% of the overall U.S. workforce has student debt, but the issue is growing in importance: 71% of the class of 2017 graduated with debt.
A student loan repayment benefit “really helps [companies] become an employer of choice,” Aronson said. “The student loan problem is felt by so many people. Employers are choosing to add this because it’s meaningful to their workforce.”
Make no mistake: Young employees still expect the standard healthcare, retirement and disability benefits. But it’s going to take much more for employers to truly engage them and get them to stick around.
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