As millenials become an increasingly predominant force in the workplace, benefits professionals must consider the impact this shift will have on the world of employee benefits. How do millennials define benefits, anyway? Do they even care about benefits? Should they care?

Eric Gulko’s article in points out that when millennials think of benefits, they don’t think of core benefits like gen Xers and baby boomers do. Compared to other generations, many millennials do not want their employer to pick many of their benefits for them, instead preferring that their company provide them with a list of benefits to choose from on their own.

According to a recent study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald Associates, only 30 percent of millennials want their employer to choose their benefits the way they do today, while 45 percent would prefer to receive a defined dollar amount and then choose their benefits from a list. This suggests a shift toward the defined contribution approach that is being promoted by the private exchange industry today.

In addition to what millennials value in their benefits packages, and how much latitude they want to choose from among options, the method of benefit selection and utilization is also a phenomenon worth noting, according to Gulko. It is well documented that millennials, more than any other workforce generation, have grown up accustomed to technology. So it should be no surprise that, compared to other generations, millennials are more likely to use employer-provided online programs. Millennials may prefer to enroll in benefits using a portal or a smartphone app. They may prefer to compare the costs of different medical providers online, using various cost estimators, or they may prefer an online wellness program. They may even be more open to “seeing” their doctor on their phone, leveraging a recent trend towards increased telemedicine.

Millennials are perhaps not quite as enamored with traditional benefits packages. Employers need to pay attention to other “benefits” such as training and development and preferences for flexible work schedules. Millennials also want more control over their benefits choices. As Gulko’s article points out though, employers may want to be careful about handing over the reins entirely. When given the choice, millennials — or any employee for that matter — may make unwise decisions without having sufficient life experience, or detailed knowledge of the benefits features.

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