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About the Millennial Generation Split

Patrick O’Connor

No other generation has been more dissected than the millennials, it seems. The millennial generation, of which I’m a part, is stereotypically into social media and all things digital, and according to everyone else, we’re obsessed with ourselves. By Patrick O’Connor, Benefits Consultant, Corporate Synergies.

We want instant gratification and we’re also known as the “me” generation. One reason for the interest in millennials is its sheer size. There are about 75 million of us who were born from 1981 to 1997, which makes us even larger than the baby boomer generation. We carry a lot of spending power, which makes retailers want to understand us.

Many researchers view us as a vastly different generation than those that came before us. Millennials are more likely to focus on eating right and controlling weight. We are also more educated, more saddled with student loan debt and more likely to spend our 20s figuring out what we want to do with our lives.

But many millennials would argue that lumping the entire generation into one category is unfair. There’s actually a large split within the generation between older millennials and younger millennials.

The Older Millennials
Older millennials were born before 1988. I fall into this category. We were teenagers at the turn of the century and clearly remember the events of September 11th. We also remember a time before the internet, iPhones and iPods. The older half of my generation got a job after college and purchased our own cell phone plan and car insurance.

And more importantly for employers, older millennials didn’t have the privilege of staying on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. That law didn’t go into effect until September 2010; by that time most of us who were working full time had already navigated the health insurance industry through our employers and had begun to understand the value of employee benefits.

The Younger Millennials
The younger half of my generation was born after 1988. They’re digital natives. By the time they were heading off to middle school they could access the internet. They were likely given cell phones as teenagers and now are keener on hanging out on Snapchat than Facebook.

Younger millennials were also hit harder by the Great Recession of 2008, which would’ve occurred when many were in college. This event made finding work after college (and even during summers between college) more difficult. The recession contributed to their “boomerang” habit of moving back home after college.[7]

The differences between older and younger millennials can complicate matters for HR professionals, who are tasked with ensuring that new employees understand everything from how much the company contributes to core benefits (medical, dental, vision, life and disability insurances), to explaining the nuances of voluntary benefits and ensuring that employees understand how benefits work and how to use them properly.

But what further complicates this gap is that some HR professionals might be of yet another generation, either generation X or the baby boomer. An older gen Xer or baby boomer might lump millennials into one category and treat them as such, when in reality there are two generational subsets with their own attitudes, opinions and education about benefits.

How to Deal with the Millennial Split
Start by acknowledging that all millennials are not equal. Older millennials grew up in a completely different time than their younger generational counterparts and require different types of benefits education materials.

For example, a total compensation document that outlines exactly how much an employer contributes to benefits can show job candidates the company’s commitment to employee health and wellness. Younger millennials who have recently aged out of their parents’ benefits may not realize the true cost of medical, dental, vision, life and disability benefits. Their primary concern is still their salary and take-home pay. A total compensation statement can be a real eye-opener.

In addition to total compensation, many younger millennials might need a crash course in how medical benefits work. Many employees on their own insurance for years still confuse terms like copay and coinsurance. It’s unfair to think that younger millennials would understand how an HSA works and knows how to choose the best benefits plan at enrollment time.

HR professionals can arrange group education sessions for new employees to explain how benefits work and how to choose the best plan for their needs. Consider communication media for different types of employees. Younger millennials may read internal social media posts or email more so than their older counterparts. This is a good time to consider the communication preferences of the entire workforce.

Being sensitive to new communication avenues for a diverse employee group can help ease benefits administration for HR. And understanding that not every millennial learns the same way—or has had the same experience with employee benefits—could help shape plan design and education strategies.

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