By Jill Purcell
As the largest generational cohort in the United States and now of working age, millennials represent more than one-third of the workforce. It’s no surprise that this generation has been a popular topic of conversation, especially among employers and benefits professionals.
Benefits managers, consultants and brokers are all trying to better understand how benefits motivate millennial workers. In the drive to attract talent, some benefits viewed as popular with millennials, such as pet insurance, are receiving a lot of time in the industry spotlight. However, market research suggests vision insurance should also be a part of the millennial conversation.
In a 2018 enrollment survey, Unum found that the elimination of vision benefits could motivate a quarter of U.S. employees to begin looking for another job. Among workers ages 25 to 34, that number rose to 34 percent.
Other employee benefit studies also indicate vision benefits remain one of the most popular employee benefits even as millennials flood the workforce. Yet, millennials’ appreciation for vision insurance and low vision plan participation rates are presenting a bit of a millennial-vision benefits puzzle for some professionals.
Here are three millennial vision needs that may help solve this riddle and help create a vision benefits message that resonates with millennials.
Understand specific vision care needs
Medical researchers and studies found that certain vision problems, such as nearsightedness and digital eye strain symptoms, have increased significantly for young adults over the last three decades.
According to a 2009 article in JAMA Ophthalmology, a study found myopia or nearsightedness was 66 percent higher among adolescents and young adults compared to 30 years prior. This also means more young people require vision correction.
Advances in technology have also elevated vision problems, with longer exposure to blue light from digital screens. As the use of digital devices increases, more people are experiencing digital eye-strain symptoms. This is especially true with millennials, having grown up with access to multiple devices and extended screen times as social norms.
In 2018, another Unum poll found that about 56 percent of U.S. adults spend more than eight hours a day looking at various digital devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and television screens. However, that percentage increased when examining responses from Generation Z and millennials, including:
- 66 percent of those ages 18 to 24
- 61 percent of those ages 25 to 34
In the same poll, these Generation Z and millennial respondents were also more likely to experience one or more symptoms of digital eye strain, compared to respondents in other age bands. Optical professionals suggest that many suffering from digital eye strain or eye fatigue may not recognize all of the symptoms or the cause in some cases.
The increase in these vision problems helps illustrate the need for vision care with relevant issues, and can help brokers tailor a vision message specifically for millennials.
Provide Vision Health & Wellness Information
Vision health is an essential part of overall health – a message worth repeating to everyone, regardless of age. Even healthy eyes need regular, comprehensive eye exams, but so many young adults today forgo these exams. This health-focused generation is not intentionally neglecting their eyes or vision health. Millennials simply misunderstand or lack the knowledge about general vision health and its correlation to overall health.
In 2018, Transitions Optical’s “Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits” survey reported that younger workers were more likely to have misconceptions about vision health and benefits. The report indicated that these misinterpretations likely contributed to lower plan participation rates of Generation Z and millennial workers.
According to a 2018 LIMRA report, nearly half of workers who do not enroll in vision benefits said that they either did not see the value or believed they did not need vision benefits. Benefits professionals can help correct these misconceptions and increase vision plan enrollment with more vision health education.
Employee surveys and research suggested that millennials needed education that supports the following messages and concepts:
- Healthy adults need regular comprehensive eye exams, even if they see perfectly fine.
- Individuals often do not notice vision changes or symptoms during the beginning stages of most vision problems.
- Eye doctors can usually detect (and determine how to treat) many vision issues through a comprehensive eye exam before symptoms are noticeable.
- Treatment is most effective when there is early diagnosis of vision issues.
- Vision screenings are not the same as comprehensive eye exams given by eye doctors.
- An eye or vision test from a primary care physician is not the same as a comprehensive eye exam with an eye-care professional
- Through regular, comprehensive eye exams, eye doctors can help detect and diagnose other serious health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Some millennials just need accurate health information to reevaluate their enrollment decision and start receiving regular eye exams.
Brokers may find that some employer clients may also need a vision health refresher course. But, there is good news: The same vision health information presented to employees can be presented at a higher level to employers and decision makers. When speaking to group clients, brokers may want to include the business implications of a workforce’s vision health, focusing on productivity and organizational costs. The right plan and benefits can help employees access more affordable care while keeping the workforce healthy and productive.
Increase Benefits Education
A strong need for vision care means vision benefits meet a demand. However, much like vision health, millennials need to accurately understand how vision benefits work to make appropriate enrollment decisions.
Younger millennials are new to the workforce, and find coverage and insurance language extremely confusing. Unless they’ve chosen a career as a health care provider or benefits professional, these individuals will most likely need thorough health insurance lessons, starting with the basics.
Brokers may want to provide additional help with defining basic benefit vocabulary and acronyms. Many terms can sound like another language. Young workers are new to the job market, and health insurance can be intimidating and overwhelming. With this in mind, benefits professionals in HR may want to reconsider their onboarding approach after hiring a Generation Z or millennial.
During employee benefits or enrollment meetings, brokers may want to plan for additional time with millennials to explain how insurance benefits work. Historically, vision plans typically do not receive a lot of attention during these meetings. However, brokers may want to consider using vision plans to introduce some basic health insurance concepts to younger workers.
Vision plans offer straightforward in-network benefits and out-of-network allowances – perfect for explaining and demonstrating preferred provider networks. In addition, vision plans have much lower monthly premiums compared to medical, dental and other health insurance plans. Consequently, the cost of vision benefits is less likely to frighten frugal millennials.
Brokers also need to be aware that some young workers may still be enrolled on their parents’ vision plans. Although healthcare laws are subject to change, parents can keep their dependent children covered on their health plans until age 26. This may save young adults the cost from monthly premiums, but that is not always the best choice.
Young employees should compare their parents’ plans to their employer’s plan to determine the best value, so they will need advice and direction on how to compare benefits. This is another excellent opportunity to start educating newer workers about specified benefits and general health insurance concepts.
While consultants and brokers have the expertise to provide benefits education, employers also play an important role by committing to year-round communication with employees. An ongoing wellness conversation with employees is easier to maintain when benefits professionals collaborate, and the end results are well worth the effort.
Regardless of the employer’s approach to vision benefits, recent research has identified a vital market need that’s easy for all to see: Millennials and younger workers need more relevant and accurate vision health information and benefits education.
Jill Purcell is the assistant vice president of product and market development at Unum, primarily focused on supporting Unum’s dental and vision products. In addition to her marketing and business expertise, she has 14 years of industry experience in the financial and insurance sectors.