Millennials and Wellness

A new report finds millennials more open to pro-wellness messages from employers -- as well as consequences for unhealthy behavior -- than older generations.

By Kecia Bal

As millennials continue to comprise larger shares of the workforce, they also are becoming increasingly tolerant of direct health guidance from employers, says a new study from Aon Hewitt.

The report, Consumer Health Mindset Study 2016, finds 56 percent of millennials think employers should direct participants to facilities or providers for the most appropriate care or cost, compared to 40 percent for all other generations. And nearly a third of millennials who responded say they support employers imposing consequences for less-than-healthy conditions -- compared to 21 percent of Gen Xers and 14 percent of baby boomers.

The study's co-lead, Joann Hall Swenson, a partner with Aon Hewitt, says these results support what other studies of millennials in the workplace found: They value customization.

"Millennials are definitely changing the game," she says. "We are going to need to think about health and wellness and engaging people in a different way. It supports the millennial data out there. This is unique in that we asked nuanced questions specifically about health engagement. Millennials highly value health and wellness programs -- when they're aligned with their goals."

The report, based on Aon's fifth annual survey of more than 2,300 U.S. consumers, also highlighted other generational differences, such as 64 percent of millennials reporting that "looking good" is a significant motivator for improving their health. They also tend to appreciate a "health culture" -- 43 percent of them said their employer's health-and-wellness programs are a reason they stay at their job, compared to 32 percent of other generations. key for effective healthy behavior messages now and in the future lies in approaching those programs through consumers' eyes, Swenson says.

One challenge can be finding the right balance of communication methods and volume, she says -- and the firm often recommends turning it down.

"Behaviorally, when you're inundated with information, you tend to ignore it," she says. "It's really important to be judicious about how much you're conveying.

"I think we have information from the health insurer and these 15 vendors and we want employees to have all these opportunities, but the consumer is thinking: 'It's not relevant to my life right now.' That's huge for millennials. What matters is personalized information, clear guidance, not overloading and ease."

Storytelling techniques are effective with millennials -- think highlighting an employee who has achieved dramatic health improvements -- she says, as well as social engagement tactics, such as creating interest groups or social platforms where employees can share wellness progress.

Karen Marlo, vice president at the National Business Group on Health, which also partnered on the study, says the results are encouraging -- especially in the finding that employers are putting the emphasis on tailoring the message rather than creating individualized programs and offerings.

"It's really about how we send those messages to them and how we segment them," she says. "It's not that the programs have to be unique. It's how you engage them."

Aside from hiring a separate communications vendor, she says, many health plan or wellness program vendors already have invested in top-tier communications techniques. She suggests tapping those resources for what works and what doesn't for younger workers.

"I think it's critical to reach them, because you want to engage these employees early and not wait until they develop chronic diseases later on," she says.

Their willingness to accept employer guidance, Marlo says, lines up with how millennials interact generally.

"They're used to video cameras," she says. "They share a lot online in public forums. I think they come with a mindset of being more open to sharing themselves. Their comfort with technology provides another door employers can [use] to engage them."

One approach to using technology that doesn't overwhelm is what Joris Luijke, vice president of people at New York-based Grovo, calls "micro-learning." The 200-employee startup focused on online learning recently hired a director of health to oversee an in-house gym and manage personal training programs, nutrition plans and meditation for employees.

Even without sophisticated tools or an in-house trainer, a 90-second video can offer quick tips for a specific problem, such as correcting a neck ache, he says.

"It's all about making it needs-based," Luijke says.

Customized information is critical, he says, as well as providing digestible information that's available on an employee's timeframe.

"Millennials are definitely more used to that concept of small video, bite-sized pieces of information," he says. "So if you have a training or a meditation, have the instructor speak for a short video. Then you have your content, available when they need it."Send questions or comments about this story to


Mar 29, 2016
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