Today’s workforce is as diverse as ever, especially when it comes to generations in the workplace. Baby Boomers have made up the majority of the workforce for most of our lifetimes. Today, millennials are the majority, but there are also Gen X and Gen Z to consider. Each generation brings its own generational differences to the table, including their approaches to wellness. How do employers bridge these differences?
To understand the different generations’ approaches to wellness, it is important to understand some of the characteristics (admittedly stereotypical) of each generation.
• Baby Boomers (ages 54-72): The “Me Generation” is seen as placing success above other values, but also values health and fitness. Most get personal fulfillment from their careers (and are often workaholics). Their communication style focuses on building long-term relationships, and they prefer face-to-face and telephone conversations over other technologies.
• Gen X (ages 38-53): Gen Xers prefer independence and fewer rules and seek to balance work and family. They often ask “why?” instead of accepting the norm. Their communication style is interpersonal and more dependent on technology, but they also like to communicate directly with leaders of an organization.
• Millennials (ages 22-37): Millennials have a much more entrepreneurial approach to work, perhaps in response to the huge expense of higher education and are less loyal to their employers. They prefer a more social and friendlier workplace and expect their work to make a difference. Because they have grown up with technology as the norm, they prefer direct and brief communications and thrive on constant feedback.
• Gen Z (ages 16-21): This upcoming generation tends to have very large networks due to social media, but little job experience. They are very big on individuality and communicate almost exclusively digitally – by smartphone and social media.
Obviously, a “one size fits all” approach to wellness won’t work. This is especially true given the different health risks associated with the generations. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are dealing more with chronic diseases, hearing and vision issues and, in some cases, functional impairments. To them, being healthy means not being sick, and they rely heavily on their health care providers. Millennials and Gen Zers, on the other hand, are more at risk for a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and increased substance abuse. At the same time, they are more in tune with how their daily life activities affect their health. They often rely on “Dr. Google” for answers. Their idea of being healthy encompasses a more holistic approach – not just nutrition and fitness, but also stress management, sleep and mental health.
What does all this mean for employers? Mainly, it means that wellness initiatives should be offered in more than one format, and communication materials should be tailored to different audiences.
Programs for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers should focus on dealing with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer or diabetes; preventing injury or chronic pain; and weight management. Wellness education should include personal and live support with the opportunity to ask questions through on-site seminars and workshops, live hotlines, fun live classes, group training or other face-to-face options. Online health libraries, videos, blogs and webinars will satisfy their desire to conduct extensive research on different topics, but these generations also like to get their information in print, so consider that as an option as well.
Millennials and Gen Zers expect wellness to be part of the overall employment picture. They trust technology and require instant communication, so programs primarily should be delivered online, but must have a modern design. These generations also are more trusting of apps and trackers, so all programs should incorporate those, as well as video platforms like YouTube. Their reliance on social media means the most effective wellness initiatives for these generations will include discussion boards or a competitive aspect (either team based or individual) and should have some award associated with them. Mental health and stress management options – counseling, meditation, yoga – are key. Free access to these programs, especially online, is very valuable to these generations.
In the end, regardless of the generation, employees want to feel valued. So, the most important step to a corporate wellness program is getting employee input and feedback during the program design phase. Representatives from all generations should be included in any wellness committees. Use employee surveys to gather feedback and continue to solicit feedback after programs are in place to determine what is working and what needs to be changed. Accommodate all of the generations to keep your employees healthy, happy and engaged.
Leslie Russ is a consultant at Foundations Human Resources Consulting in Lexington, Kentucky, a wholly-owned subsidiary of labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips. Russ can be reached at 859-286-1100 or lruss@FoundationsHR.com.