As employers work to refine their annual benefits offerings, a central challenge they face is providing the right mix of care and preventive services for an increasingly age-diverse population.
For the first time in modern history, four generations are in the workforce, each with different needs, desires and resources. Employers are being challenged to better understand their audience, provide choice, educate and empower.
Getting a Lay of the Land
Understanding the different life stages of employees is crucial.
Just beginning careers, millennials have a mindset of invincibility, while perceiving themselves as less healthy and more stressed than other groups. Student debt and living expenses are major drivers in choosing inexpensive plans, while supplementing with employer-sponsored wellness programs.
Hit hard by the recession and focused on recovering income they may have lost, saving for retirement and putting children through college, generation X realizes the importance of coverage, but salary comes first, leading them toward basic plans bolstered by voluntary benefits. Wellness is key, as they are more susceptible to chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other costly conditions.
A little better off, baby boomers’ savings were impacted by the recession, too, yet they’re willing to invest in a quality plan with higher premiums and Health Savings Accounts. Wellness programs are viewed as ways to manage chronic conditions.
Those 65+ are working either because they have to or because they want to stay active. Knowing their health is vulnerable, they’re looking for a high-quality plan with both critical illness offerings and major medical coverage. Wellness is more about managing conditions.
Empowering through Choice, Education
The stakes are high. It’s why many employers are turning to private exchanges, providing 10–15 competitive options, whereby employees can craft a benefit package that meets their needs. Choice is important when the demographics, financial standing and risk tolerance greatly differ. It also enables employees to choose where they spend their hard-earned money.
That’s why it’s critical for employers to not only educate their employees, but also empower them to make good healthcare choices. When employees become better consumers, employers’ cost ratios are lowered, renewals are lowered and savings are increased. Education should reach beyond plan particulars to ways the employee can lower out-of-pocket costs, such as choosing to fill prescriptions at big-box retailers instead of pharmacies.
Employers have their work cut out for themselves. Today, the average Amazon.com shopper spends 40 hours per week and $2,500 annually with the retailer. Healthcare is significantly more expensive, yet a recent study by a leading insurance company revealed that nearly half of employees spend 15 minutes or less deciding on a benefits package.
Communicating: The Right People, the Right Vehicles, the Right Time
Good communication is key to ensuring satisfaction. A lot of employers focus their communication on the employee, but spouses who handle the majority of the family’s needs are the real decision makers. Is information being delivered to them?
Employers should also be aware of how generations best consume information. For millennials, that means utilizing technology, including videos, Web links and social media. Gen X likes to research options before speaking with knowledgeable resources. Boomers and 65+ are all about personal connections and one-on-one outreach. Is communication diversified?
Lastly, healthcare is a conversation that needs to happen throughout the year, not just during open enrollment. Surveys show that satisfaction, awareness, engagement and stewardship skyrocket when employees feel empowered and in the know. Is it frequent?
A Happy, Healthy Workforce
The landscape is changing and challenging employers to approach healthcare differently. With more options than ever before — from major medical and voluntary benefits to paid time off and even school loan repayment — the employer’s role has evolved to include education, empowerment and guidance unlike ever before.
Doug Adelberg and Elise Thorpe are the vice presidents with Arizona-based Lovitt & Touché, one of the nation’s largest insurance brokerages, which offers property and casualty insurance, specialty insurance, risk solutions for business, personal insurance, bonds and surety, and comprehensive employee benefits solutions.