Generation Z & Their Benefit Needs

Gen Z employee using phone in the workplace

The year was 1996. Oprah’s latest book club selection was a nightstand staple (The Corrections is still a favorite of mine). A Nirvana CD replaced my Guns N’ Roses cassette tape and I couldn’t have been a bigger Friends fan. Little did I know that while I was practicing the Macarena in my mirror, Generation Z was taking their first steps into the world.

It’s hard to believe all those 90’s babies are graduating from college, entering the workforce and eligible for employee benefits. For benefits administrators, it’s time to think about what makes their benefit needs unique.

According to the Pew Research Center, Generation Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, on track to be the most well-educated and are digital natives. How can employers talk with Generation Z employees about benefits? First, let’s look closer at what sets this generation apart.

Ethnic Diversity

Today, one in four Gen Zers are Hispanic, 14% are Black, 6% are Asian and 5% are a mix of two or more races. And 22% of Gen Zers have at least one immigrant parent. A rise in racial and ethnic diversity in the workforce means that employers need to be aware how ethnic differences might impact an employees’ understanding of benefits.

Some ethnic groups have faced health disparities that might make their relationship to preventive care complicated. Mexican American and non-Hispanic Black adults are twice as likely to have untreated cavities. Being mindful of how and why Generation Z’s cultural diversity might affect their readiness to sign up for and use work perks, like dental insurance, can help benefits administrators create a communication plan for this younger generation. 


Gen Zers are more likely to be enrolled in college than previous generations. In fact, among 18-to-21-year-olds no longer in high school, 57% were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college. This crop of college-educated workers expects to be challenged at work and require a benefits package that matches their job scope and responsibilities. It is no longer enough to offer medical insurance and a 401K and call it a day.

To stay competitive employers are offering enhanced benefits that include dental, vision, tuition or student loan assistance and even voluntary options like pet insurance. But this means HR departments need to beef up their communication plans to explain these different options.

More education also means that Gen Zers are less likely to be working as teens and young adults. If a young adult is focused on school, they might not have had time to enter the workforce as early as past generations. For employers in the process of onboarding new staff, it’s likely these employees have never thought about benefits or discussed them with an employer before.


Generation Zers are linked to technology like no other generation. Known as digital natives, they are the first generation to grow up entirely in the digital age. They see no difference between the physical and digital world and are comfortable moving between the two.

According to Dell Technologies research findings, 91% of Generation Zers say technology would influence their job choice among similar offers and 80% believe technology can create a more equitable workplace.

For employers this means shifting a benefits communication strategy away from printed materials to a digital-first approach. For example, can you offer employees a way to participate in open enrollment from their phones? The average Gen Z employee got their first cell phone by age 12. This makes Gen Zers not only “mobile first” but “mobile only.”

Talking to Generation Z About the Benefits of Employee Benefits

The oldest among Generation Z are entering their mid-20’s. Which means they’re entering the working world just as they’re getting booted off their parent’s insurance. This is the perfect time to talk with young employees about the benefits of signing up for and using their own employee benefits.

Like most problems in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is true with total and oral health too. Talking with young workers about their health benefits starts with explaining why preventive benefits, like dental insurance, keeps their smiles and bodies healthy. Most dental disease is preventable, and many dental plans cover preventive care, like cleanings, at 100 percent. When employees have dental coverage, they are 73% more likely to schedule an annual checkup.

Communication Ideas for a Young Workforce

In addition to explaining the importance of preventive care, here are other ideas benefits administrators can fold into a communication plan to reach a younger audience:

  1. Use plain language. Take the time to explain complicated insurance words to help young workers make sense of insurance jargon. For example, can you include a glossary of terms in your open enrollment emails? Or can you explain what a ‘deductible’ is using a real-life scenario?
  2. Use technology. Connect with younger workers where they spend the most time—online. Try using company social media pages to remind employees to take part in open enrollment. Does your insurance provider have an app you can use? The Delta Dental mobile app makes it easy for members to check benefits and use their ID card on the go (we’ve come a long way since those first flip phones).
  3. Help prepare for insurance independence. As a young workforce begins to age out of their parent’s insurance plans you can fill the knowledge gap. Explain why it’s important to sign up for their own plan and offer information about alternative options.

Yes, the 90’s brought us fanny packs, flannel, and Furbys. But it also brought us a smart and talented generation ready to take on the working world. And as HR professionals it’s our duty to guide them on this journey.

For more information on helping your staff sign up for and use their benefits, check out these other resources:


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