When Desjardins Insurance launched a study to redefine employee health and well-being, an unexpected finding came through loud and clear: Canadian employers and insurers should be paying much closer attention to millennial plan members.
Millennials are a cohort of people born between 1980 and 1996. Since 2016, the generation has comprised the largest segment of the working population, at one in three employees. They’re an incredibly diverse population, are digital natives and have lived through two economic downturns in their working lives.
And many of them are disaffected or disengaged, said Charmaine Alexander, Desjardins’ senior advisor of disability management, during Benefits Canada’s 2023 Future of Work Summit. The insurer’s survey found 43 per cent were considering leaving their jobs this year. Nearly three-quarters reported experiencing burnout — well above the 35 per cent average for the rest of the working generations — and 68 per cent said they’ve done the bare minimum at work in order to protect their mental and physical health. Forty per cent said they felt disconnected from their work.
“It’s really important for employers and insurer partners to hear this. We want to make sure we’re really targeting what means something to them and what is going to attract and retain them in our workforce.”
Millennials also reported poorer overall wellness than employees in other generations across all five pillars of employee well-being — mental, physical, financial, environmental and social health. Indeed, the survey found 80 per cent of millennials are doing less well than the average Canadian.
Financial health was where millennials felt the most off, which Alexander noted squares with some of the challenges many are facing today — from trying to buy a home in an overheated housing market to just trying to get by during a time of high interest rates and inflation. “Retirement savings and thinking down the road was something that wasn’t immediately important to them because they’re really just trying to survive and make it now.”
Almost half (46 per cent) of millennials “worried” about their work environment and 42 per cent were concerned about new ways of working post-pandemic.
The survey results contained indications of how employers could retain and re-engage their millennial workforce, said Alexander, noting millennial employees — more than other generations — are counting on their employers to contribute to all dimensions of their wellness. They have high expectations for corporate initiatives that emphasize flexibility and a caring work culture, including the ability to work flexible hours, take vacations, work remotely as digital nomads, as well as to work in a culture free of harassment and discrimination.
More than three in five millennial employees said they wanted their employer to offer benefits that promote an inclusive work environment, highlighting the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion to this generation.
All generations considered their benefits and retirement savings plans as key to their overall wellness. But millennials in particular expressed interest in wellness accounts that could cover physical fitness activities, ergonomic budgets for their home office space and mental-health services and digital therapy. They also stood out as wanting more financial services from their employer than other generations, including education and access to financial planning.
As for how employers address those wants, Alexander said the first step is to create a work environment that prioritizes DEI, including by personalizing benefits, conducting DEI training and surveying employees about what’s important to them. Plan sponsors can also ensure managers are contributing to a caring work environment by providing manager mental-health training and education on how to be a coach or mentor.
While many employers have invested significantly in their group benefits and well-being programs in the past few years, Alexander suggested their group retirement savings programs may benefit from a refresh, such as by introducing financial education and adding accounts for shorter-term savings goals like a tax-free savings account or first home savings account.
She also noted the Desjardins study found initiatives targeted at one dimension of well-being can have knock-on positive impacts on one or all additional dimensions. “We were surprised at where these impacts were being felt. For example, you might think that group insurance was most beneficial to financial health or mental health, . . . but it actually showed up in our study that it also affected social health because, when someone’s finances are in order, they tend to have more of a social life.”
Read more coverage of the 2023 Future of Work Summit.