Employee Benefits Programs for Generation Z

Is Your Benefits Program Ready for Generation Z?

Just as employers are beginning to understand Millennials, a new group is set to invade the workforce: Generation Z.

Also known as iGen or Post-Millennials (the official label is still being hotly contested among social scientists), Gen Z represents those born since 1998. Making up more than 25 percent of the U.S. population, Gen Z is already a major area of focus for marketers. But with the oldest of the age group starting their first jobs, it’s time for HR and benefits professionals to study up on Gen Z, as well, so they can be prepared to successfully engage and nurture what will soon be a significant chunk of their employee population. So, what makes these youngsters tick?

Skeptical, thrifty activists

Many young adults are able to recall the fear and stress of their parents during the height of the Great Recession in 2009, when 15 million people were out of work. As a result, according to a report from Magid Generational Strategies, Gen Z’ers are less likely than previous generations to believe in the American Dream.1 They enter the job market with little sense of entitlement, fully expecting to have to work hard to even have a chance at getting ahead. They’re also very budget-minded—another effect of coming along in the midst of a down economy—and take pride in being careful with their money.

While many Gen Z’ers were too young to comprehend the attacks of September 11 at the time they occurred, they are fully aware of the high-security world they inhabit and the continued threat of terrorism. And just as the Baby Boomers practiced nuclear bombing drills at school in the 1950s and 1960s, lockdown drills—in preparation of a potential mass shooting—have been a regular part of life for Gen Z’ers. It’s no coincidence that two of the most popular book and movie franchises of the last several years, The Hunger Games and Divergent, center on young heroes who rise up against rulers of violent, oppressive, dystopian societies.

Gen Z does, in fact, appear to have a distinct interest in taking on the world’s injustices. As “social natives,” who not only have never been without the Internet but also almost always had access to social media (MySpace started in 2003) and mobile devices, Gen Z’ers are the most connected generation to date. They are constantly interacting with content on a variety of social issues and seizing opportunities to take action. A study from New York-based marketing firm Sparks & Honey found that one in four Gen Z’ers regularly volunteer, and that 60 percent of them want their job to impact the world in some way.2

Communicating with Gen Z’ers

Now that you’ve got a glimpse into the soul of the typical Gen Z’er, here are some tips on how HR and benefits professionals should consider communicating with their youngest employees:

Emphasize value

Based on their experience with the Great Recession, Gen Z’ers need to know they’re getting a good deal. As employees, they’ll want a high level of visibility into the full value of their benefits package. That means communicating benefits within the context of total compensation, and providing employees with resources that help them clearly understand how their benefits fit their lives. Gen Z’ers will be much more risk averse early on than previous generations were, so stressing the advantages of income-protecting voluntary benefits and health spending accounts will be extremely important to make these employees feel taken care of by their employer.

Talk straight

Having watched older siblings graduate from college only to move back home with no job, Gen Z’ers are under no illusion that the adult world is a place where money and opportunity grow on trees. Consequentially, they will be skeptical of authority (which, in their experience and opinion, has largely failed) and unimpressed with corporate jargon and flowery language. When communicating to Gen Z about benefits, get right to the point. Your frankness will go a long way in establishing a relationship of trust between employee and employer.

Make it quick and memorable

With an average attention span of eight seconds, Gen Z’ers move fast. They have grown up with answers to their questions just a Google search away, and they will expect a similar degree of accessibility to their benefits information. But beyond just providing easy access, which many employers are already doing through benefits communication portals, consider how you can proactively push out your message in a way that will resonate with a generation that largely prefers visuals to text (think “snackable content”). And be prepared to communicate across multiple screens – five is actually the preferred number for multitasking Gen Z’ers.2

Think mobile first

The most popular screens by far for Gen Z’ers are those on their mobile devices, specifically smartphones and tablets, which many of them see (consciously or not) as practically extensions of themselves. In fact, nearly eight in ten of Gen Z’ers display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their smartphone.2 As crazy as that might sound to some, employers have to respect that reality. Gen Z’ers are doing much of their social interaction, research and purchasing through a mobile device. Investing in mobile-friendly benefits technology that embraces this behavior could be vital to helping Gen Z’ers get the most out of their benefits.

Go beyond benefits

Gen Z’ers have a heart for service and leadership, and they’re very interested in playing a part in social change. As an employee, they want to know their employer encourages that ambition and, hopefully, has a social mission of its own. Your benefits program can be an excellent way to show employees what the organization stands for. Find ways to incorporate your social mission into how you communicate benefits, and position your benefits offering as an extension of that mission. Talking about the big picture—beyond what the benefits are and more about what they can ultimately do—can increase the likelihood that Gen Z’ers will buy into not just your benefits program, but your entire organization.

When developing your benefits communication strategy for the next few years, be sure to keep Gen Z’ers in mind. Because ready or not, they’re coming, along with a host of new needs, wants and desires.

To learn more about building effective benefits communication for a diverse workforce, join Benefitfocus at One Place, our annual conference for benefits professionals, March 8-10 in Orlando.


1. Magid Generational Strategies: The First Generation of the Twenty-First Century

2. Sparks & Honey: Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials