Millennials and Benefits: Lost in Translation

Are your benefits lost in translation?

Millennials and benefits administrators may seem to have more differences than similarities. But zooming out, it appears each group engages in a common phenomenon: Using the language specific to their culture.

How do you cross the cultural divide between Millennials and benefits administrators? What is needed for effective communication?

We argue that successful communication relies less on what is said and more on how it is said.

Not Better or Worse: Just Different

The first step for effective communication is understanding that different isn’t necessarily bad.

Regardless of whether a person is a Millennial, Gen X or Baby Boomer, individuals can tend to take a polarized stance when it comes to how information is “best” communicated. Often, the most familiar way is considered the better way.

However, what is familiar to one person may not be familiar to another. For example: There is a man on a train, reading The New York Times paper. There is also a Millennial on the same train, on his phone. He is also reading The New York Times. Even though both individuals are taking in the same information, it may be more likely to assume that the Millennial is engaging in an activity like Candy Crush. This attitude toward Millennials often shifts into the corporate environment.

Familiarity Breeds Liking

To the untrained eye, a Millennials’ approach to taking in information can seem to indicate a lack of engagement with the external world. “They’re always on their phones.”

However, employers can use the fact that Millennials are always on their devices to their advantage. As Millennials are well-versed technologically, they will be more likely to figure out their benefits with fewer company resources if the information is available via a familiar platform.

The goal of benefits administrators doesn’t need to be rewriting the benefits handbook. The goal can be to repackage the existing benefits information.

Meet in the Middle

The second step to effective communication is meeting in the middle.

Employers don’t need their workforce to be experts when it comes to benefits. Employers want their employees to have a basic understanding of benefits. This can be achieved by meeting in the middle.

Meeting in the middle consists of Millennials learning the existing system and employers attempting a new system. The onus is placed on both Millennials and employers.

This approach achieves three outcomes:

1. Less pressure on employers.

Human Resources should not have to rework all existing systems to be Millennial-friendly. There are many demands on HR and resources have to be allocated. To meet in the middle, HR admins can repackage some of the benefits information. From there, employees can be trusted to figure out the rest (or to ask questions)

2. Increasing self-reliance.

Millennials want to understand benefits. They expect information to come in a benefits booklet with a website. If employers provide benefits information via both existing platforms and new ones, Millennials can fill in the gaps through independent research.

3. Building trust.

Continued attempts by both sides to communicate using each other’s styles tills the ground for successful future interactions. Both sides will be able to acknowledge times when the other tried to cross the cultural divide, which will build mutual trust.

As with any two cultures attempting to broker a dialogue, meeting in the middle is a win-win situation.

The final step to effective communication is trial-and-error.

Trial and Error

It may sound counter-intuitive that effective communication takes place through trial-and-error. But recall the last time you had a miscommunication with someone. You learned from that about what to say (or not say) next time a similar interaction took place.

Likewise, in effectively communicating benefits, employers will find some methods fall flat and others are highly successful.


The “too long, didn’t read” version?

By acknowledging that what is familiar is not always better and agreeing to meet in the middle, Millennials and benefits administrators can effectively communicate, making sure benefits aren’t lost in translation.