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Utilization by Generation: Keep the Focus on Better Communication

Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on November 07, 2017 10:30 AM

For all our generational differences, there’s a lot about us that’s the same when it comes to barriers to benefits utilization.  Regardless of the group we fit into, many of us report we don’t know about our benefits – or seem to forget what we have.  In a recent survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, 80 percent of employers reported their employees don’t read their benefits collateral.  Is it as simple as, "I never got the message"?

When it comes to boosting utilization rates, offering the right benefits is required.  But communicating about them in the right way, using the right vehicles is critical. In this post, we take a look at the messaging that’s most meaningful to each generation, and the types of communication vehicles that will help reach - and resonate - with each group.   The end goal? Better awareness, greater understanding and ultimately, higher utilization.  

Generation Z:
While this generation brings unprecedented tech proficiency to the workplace, they’re also showing old-school values and traits that are fast earning them the title of the “Throwback Generation.” Delivering information to their devices, in formats they’re most comfortable with is a must. Keep the messaging brief, and use a tone that communicates they’re being supported where they need it, be it tuition assistance, financial planning, work flexibility, or help with caring for furry loved ones.  But also make it clear they're being given the independence to make their own choices. 

We know Gen Z the least, and research is just beginning to emerge as they establish themselves in the workplace.  Talk to your Gen Zers often, particularly in hiring, onboarding or transitional career stages about their benefits and your communications strategy to get their honest take on how it's all working. 

Recommended CommunicationVehicles: Mobile apps, social media, humorous videos, benefits-related memes and games. Also, try delivering messages and opportunities to connect outside the traditional, 9-5pm work day.

Finding meaning in work, having choices in benefits and policies, and being given the opportunity for strong professional development are all important to Millennials.  As is overall wellness, which includes financial health.  Many Millennials are parents now (or soon will be), and 25 percent also care for aging or ill loved ones.  Communications to Millennials should be targeted at addressing how your organization will help address pain points, while also playing a role as educator and guide.   

Focus on support for managing busy lives at work and at home, planning for the future, or how you're ensuring strong career progression.  Keep the tone educational and easily digested.  And communicate the individual value of programs as they relate to the employee, but also the connection they have to your company culture and its mission. 

Recommended Communication Vehicles: Educational opportunities, including webinars, Town-Hall-style meetings, and access to individual financial and wellness coaches. Plus, brief, targeted emails, as well as mobile apps, educational videos and social media. Also, try using company outings, team building and volunteer events as another forum for benefits communication.

Generation X:
Independent, highly skilled and seeking greater work-life integration, GenXers are steadily building their retirement nest egg, while focusing on caring for loved ones on both side of the spectrum – children and ill or aging parents.  Deliver targeted information that makes it clear how your organization is helping Gen Xers face mid-life financial pressures, the pace of senior-level jobs, and the demands of round-the-clock caregiving. Try a practical and to-the-point format, with an understanding tone that showcases real-life stories of employees putting their benefits in action.

Recommended Communication Vehicles: Brief, targeted emails, mobile apps, videos showcasing mini case studies or relatable stories, and social media.  Also try offering regular benefits training opportunities to GenXers so that they’re not only feel like experts in what’s available, but are comfortable actively advocating for benefits with their teams as senior level managers.

Baby Boomers:
Making up for losses in the Great Recession, Boomers are working hard to ensure that their retirement security is intact and they’re getting the best available health and medical benefits.  Many are also stretched in caring for ill or aging partners, which extends the average number of hours each week they spend providing unpaid care from 20+ to more than 40.  Practical and pragmatic, they like the numbers and need to know ROI to make the right decision for this phase of life.  Feature infographics with compelling research and key stats in your communications, and offer opportunities to meet with partner experts and advisors in group or individual settings.  

Recommended Communication Vehicles: Brief, targeted emails, online blogs or newsletters featuring regular stats and demonstration of ROI, intranet, limited print materials, mobile apps, as well as video and social media.  Also, try grooming more Boomers for benefits ambassador roles. It’s important to have employees in each generation who know the ins and outs of their benefits and are willing to openly share their story. 

While each generation has its own (at times, very generally defined) set of benefits needs, it’s always important to recognize that every employee experiences life and career in a different way, at their own pace.  Keeping aware of these individual differences, and using technology to track communication preferences is key.  And worrying less about repetitive messaging and more about value in messaging will help your communications break through the noise. 

Lastly, fostering company cultures where leaders walk the talk, where transparency and inclusiveness are promoted, and where stigma around caregiving or health conditions is erased, helps opens up the lines of benefits communication even more - and boost your chances for higher utilization - across all generations. 

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.