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Rachael Allen, centre, an instructor at Iam Yoga, teaches a class of hot yoga in Toronto on Wednesday, December 17, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The Canadian Press

Andrew Smith didn't relegate his benefits booklet to the back of a drawer when he was hired last summer as a web developer in Toronto.

Like many millennials, he's keenly aware of the offerings his tech firm provides, which include $100 a month for paramedical services, psychological counselling and vision care.

And the Toronto-based worker is looking for a company offering solid benefits. When he made the jump to a new employer this past summer, he expected "they'd have a pretty decent package, especially in the tech space, because there's a bit of a shortage there and they need decent people."

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Mr. Smith is a fan of paramedical services – things like physiotherapy, acupuncture, and naturopathy, which are offered as part of his health-spending account (HSA). HSAs often have a fixed amount – perhaps $300 – dedicated to each provider – be it a massage therapist or chiropractor – that can be spent as the employee sees fit.

"Having an HSA where you have more flexibility – that cash that you can use towards any sort of medical expense – that's nice to have in the back pocket if you need it," says Mr. Smith, who recently welcomed his first child, a daughter.

The growing work force of millennials comes with its own benefits agenda – and it expects employers to follow suit, says Sarah Beech, president of Accompass, a benefits, investment and compensation firm based in Toronto. She says many are keenly aware of health issues their parents or family members have faced and have an appreciation of comprehensive drug plans.

"There is a greater awareness about some of the core benefits," for example, psychological counselling to deal with mental health issues such as anxiety, Ms. Beech says. She says that because millennials don't have the same stigma around mental health issues as other generations, "plan designs are shifting and actually increasing coverage for psychologists."

But millennials are also into less traditional options such as health-tracking programs (weight-loss, smoking cessation, blood pressure) and rewards for pursuing healthy lifestyles. "Millennials still do value core benefit plans – but want a different delivery and more flexibility. They're also more assertive and more candid about asking for that," Ms. Beech says.

Marilee Mark, vice-president of product development and integrated health solutions at Sun Life Financial, says that a recent Sun Life survey confirms millennials' focus on fluidity around benefits, and also reveals a need for clarity in how they're offered. "Forty-nine per cent of millennials wanted more flexibility," she says.

Ms. Mark says that while Gen Yers want to be able to allocate more funds toward vision care and massage therapy under HSAs than other demographic groups, they also seek technological solutions that can provide them with access to healthcare providers and health and wellness and information.

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"There is more of an appetite for a non-traditional benefit," says Ms. Mark, such as a consultation or online chat with a physician, the option of being directed via a smartphone for a second opinion, or rewards for meeting fitness and health targets. She says younger survey respondents often indicate "I want it on my mobile."

At Uberflip, a Toronto-based firm that builds content marketing platforms, Randy Frisch, COO and co-founder, has made that connection. Mr. Frisch says the firm set about creating a "tribe" atmosphere when it launched four years ago. That included creating a benefits plan that worked for its largely millennial work force, which plans to grow to 117 employees next year.

The thinking? Keep core benefits, such as prescription drugs and short-term disability, and augment those offerings with benefits specially tailored to Gen Yers. "You have to give people what they're asking for," Mr. Frisch says. "But you've also got to have the basics in place."

A big part of the less traditional offerings have been tech-focused. Uberflip partnered with League, a Toronto-based start-up whose software platform allows Uberflip's staffers access to local nutritionists, massage therapists, personal trainers and yoga centres, using funds from the firm's Personal Wealth Spending Account, which is like a Health and Wellness Account.

"They have $250 per year to spend on these non-traditional things. It gives you access to try something new," Mr. Frisch says. "Maybe do a yoga course. Maybe get a personal trainer and figure out a health plan."

Uberflip also offers an app powered by Akira, which connects users with doctors or nurse practitioners via text message and video chat – and allows employees seeking diagnoses for non-complex medical issues, prescriptions or referrals to skip the lengthy queues at doctors' offices.

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Mr. Frisch says the firm often conducts surveys to determine whether the benefits are resonating with staff, and plans to work this dialogue into quarterly chats with employees.

"What are the things that this work force is valuing? We need to find that balance," he says.

He admits that in the competitive industry that is tech, having a creative benefits package can help prevent a revolving door at the office. "It's harder to retain great talent," Mr. Frisch says.

"It's one thing to know what's going on but we need figure out what continues to be relevant to people so we retain them."

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