COVID was a wake-up name for millennial workers – and advantages executives must act

Organizing the administrative side of wellbeing is only part of the battle. Millennials also need support to make and maintain incremental changes that incorporate healthy habits into their daily lives

Increasing fear. Sleep disorders. Deterioration in diet. COVID has hit the American workforce hard, as shown by Rally Health’s 2020 Health Preventive Care survey of more than 4,000 adults. Millennial workers are no exception, but the toll could be particularly high. That’s because research shows that millennials tend to be in poorer health compared to older Americans of the same age. Depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use disorders, and type 2 diabetes are more common in millennials than in Gen X members of the same age.

Related: Millennial Health: 5 Not-So-Happy Trends

Time constraints and stress are likely only to make these issues worse as older millennials have joined the so-called “sandwich generation” – the group of adults who support both school-age children and older parents – as COVID-19 rages on. According to Morning Consult’s 1,000 adult survey for New York Life last summer, millennials now make up 39% of the sandwich generation. As families lost access to childcare, started school and tried to protect their older parents from the virus, people in their thirties began to feel increasingly stressed and pressed for time. No wonder Rally’s survey found that 47% of millennials feel overwhelmed just thinking about all the things they need to do for retirement planning.

Still, the pandemic presents a rare moment of opportunity to buck the trend – improving worker health outcomes and lowering employer health costs for what is currently the largest generation of the American workforce. This is because the correlation between poor metabolic health and an increased risk of COVID-19 complications has led many young people to take their health seriously and offers a unique opportunity to amplify positive lifestyle changes. In fact, Rally’s survey found that millennial employees are more focused on their health today than they were before the pandemic.

To meet their newly heightened call for advice, companies must offer targeted strategies that allow millennial employees to take control of their health and adopt better habits. Here are three ways employers can employ 20- and 30-year-olds to help them live happier, healthier, and more productive lives – while lowering health care costs and avoiding the onerous medical debt that plagues young people.

1. Use intuitive, easy-to-use self-service tools

Millennials, of course, turn to technology – but since they’re inundated with apps, platforms, and other digital offerings, reducing noise requires a real focus on engagement and user experience.

This focus must include finding, navigating and using tools. As millennials are used to the smooth user experiences of Silicon Valley, they are put off by benefits and insurance processes that span multiple clunky websites. By unifying benefit programs under one location that offers a simple, aesthetically pleasing experience, organizations can prevent their employees from being overwhelmed and laid off.

For millennials in the sandwich generation in particular, the ability to find curated, targeted tools in one place reduces a significant burden. And for all young people, being able to search for all providers on a single platform – not just medical, but also mental health, dentistry, eyesight and pharmacy – as well as scheduling appointments, reviewing claims and paying bills means frustrations and Encouragement to Avoid Busy people need to take small steps to keep up to date on their health.

Organizing the administrative side of wellbeing is only part of the battle, however. Millennials also need support to make and maintain incremental changes that incorporate healthy habits into their daily lives. A performance platform should offer effective wellness coaching programs that support everything from general wellbeing (like sleep or stress management) to more serious and expensive problems (like weight loss, preventing diabetes, or quitting smoking). Employees should be able to access employer-sponsored programs with a few clicks instead of having to make tedious and sensitive personnel inquiries.

2. Make messaging – and the benefits – holistic

Even if they’re not as healthy as other generations their age, millennials are more health conscious. About 44% of rally poll respondents in this age group said their parents taught them healthy lifestyles more than any other generation. Effective employer-sponsored digital health programs should, therefore, leverage and improve millennials’ basic health by expanding messaging to include mental health, lifestyle factors, and even financial fitness.

As COVID-19 initiated a major shift towards telehealth, many employers are now offering app-based on-demand therapy services, many of which have seen tremendous spikes in demand since the pandemic began. Some also offer access to wellness coaches to help millennials assess their emotional and physical health. According to a survey, 92% of companies with more than 500 employees offer such services. Coaching has been shown to be effective for people dealing with a range of health conditions.

According to a study recently published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, coaching helps participants successfully change behaviors, including exercise and eating habits, and leads to “clinically relevant” improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting glucose levels, and body mass index more.

3. Look for thoughtful incentive programs

Research shows that when incentives are given, people are more likely to do something – this is especially true of millennials who have long-standing relationships with fitness trackers and wearables, as well as home fitness services. A well-designed and implemented program can motivate more people to achieve wellness goals, which can help reduce healthcare costs.

Additionally, Rally Health’s incentive data shows that most employer-sponsored financial incentives are used to plan, save, and pay for healthcare expenses. By contributing to Millennial Rewards and HSA Accounts, incentives encourage employees involved in wellness programs to continue receiving preventive and other necessary medical care. Compelling rewards make it easier for millennials to build healthy habits – and get involved.

If the turmoil of last year offers lessons, a recovery from normal business operations would not be ideal in some ways. Instead, companies should take the opportunity to rethink and improve their internal and external relationships. For those responsible for performance, this means paying attention to the very real call of the millennial employees for commitment to health and support.

Steve Olin is Chief Product Officer at digital health company Rally Health, Inc., part of the UnitedHealth Group’s Optum business. Rally (R) creates digital solutions and experiences that make healthcare and health more accessible and affordable for everyone, regardless of their health plan.

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