Engaging with Millennials to Maintain and Improve their Health

By: Edna Vasquez-Dretzka

Millennials, aged 22-37 in 2017, will overtake Boomers as the largest population in the workforce in 2019.  They are younger, healthier, and have fewer dependents than their Boomer and Gen X predecessors – at least at this stage of their lives. 

They are also living in a time of rapidly increasing healthcare costs.  Employers and insurers tasked with providing coverage for these employees are looking for ways to stabilize their healthcare costs and put more of the onus on employees to take responsibility for their health.  They have turned to leaner health benefit plan constructions, or Consumer Directed Health Plans (CDHP) to help in this effort.  The question is whether these plans are eliciting the kind of behavior that employers want from their employees: namely taking more personal responsibility for their health.

Research done by Greenwald & Associates/EBRI on Consumer Engagement in Healthcare (CEHCS) uncovers that Millennials show some of the most health-conscious behavior of all generational cohorts and that they have a distinctly “do it yourself approach.” But have they gone too far?  Are Millennials placing too much faith in their online research and too little on health care professionals?  Have high deductible plans, offering only catastrophic coverage for high cost medical claims, discouraged them from seeking preventative care?  Our research suggests that this could be happening.

True, Millennials are younger and have fewer dependents than their Boomer and Gen X counterparts, which might explain their more independent approach to healthcare.  Or, it could be that they are simply more comfortable using technology to see doctors and self-diagnose, rather than have a primary care physician.  Still, another reason that they avoid the doctor’s office could be their high deductible plans, making them responsible for sometimes thousands of medical costs at first dollar.  Regardless of why Millennials approach healthcare differently, the adage still holds true – “prevention is the best medicine.”  So, what can employers do to help their Millennial employees with prevention and to encourage healthy behavior both today and in the long run?

  • Meet them where they hang out – Millennials are online. In terms of healthcare, they use more telemedicine than any other demographic.  They spend more time researching costs, drug costs, and doctor quality.  They also have an opinion about their provider, their care, and their prescriptions.  These opinions are undoubtedly promoted and magnified in online social circles.  How well does your company and your healthcare partners engage with employees online?  What is working and what isn’t? 
  • Create wellness learning zones –According to Greenwald & Associate/EBRI’s research, the most popular wellness programs offered by employers to employees are activity-based wellness challenges. When asked why they participated in the wellness programs that they did, Millennials cited convenience and a desire to improve health as the main reasons.  Financial incentives did not rate nearly as highly for Millennials as it did for other generational cohorts.  There is an opportunity to create learning zones, where activity meets advice and employees can combine education, health and wellness all together.  How does your company support wellness for its employees?  What kind of learning zone activities work best?  What can you learn from others?
  • De-stress your workforce – Millennials were more likely than other generational cohorts to report being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses in Greenwald & Associates/EBRI’s survey. They were more than twice as likely as Gen Xers and slightly more likely than Boomers to use counseling and stress management programs at work.  Millennials and their dependents are also generally much more likely to be using workplace wellness programming than other generations.  How robust are your mental health resources?  How well do they address the issues present in your workforce?  What more can you do?
  • Join the experiential food craze – Food connects people and always has. Company break rooms have long been a gathering place where employers could silently nudge employees to make healthy food choices.  Today, however the company break room experience is being replaced with virtual meetings and remote workers.  Millennials love finding new ways to connect with food – think food trucks, pop-up restaurants, Uber-eats – but that doesn’t always trickle into the company break room.  How can today’s workforce, often working miles apart from one another provide that same food experience and unite (maybe even nudge) employees towards healthier food choices?

We’d love to explore these ideas more with you to help you identify what health and wellness programming is working for you and your clients, as well as help you identify areas of opportunity.

Careers Greenwald & Associates