How to ensure health and wellness in a multi-generational workforce How to ensure health and wellness in a multi-generational workforce

How to ensure health and wellness in a multi-generational workforce
17 Jan 2019

As Michael Dell, chairman and chief executive of Dell Technologies, pointed out in a blog at the end of last year, for the “first time in modern history, five generations will be working side-by-side” in the workplace as members of Generation Z start entering the workforce in significant numbers.

This means that employers must be more active than ever before in ensuring that the health needs of everyone - from the Silent Generation (born after the mid-1990s)  to Generation Z (born after 2001) - are met.

The problem is that it can be difficult juggling the needs of older employees, who are now working for longer and retiring later on in life, with those of a younger generation taking their first step on the career ladder. But it can be done.

Experts estimate that by 2020, more than half of the global workforce will be made up of both Millennials (born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s) and Generation Z. But a good chunk of the over-65 population can either not afford to give up work or still wants to continue, which means it cannot be ignored either.

In general terms, while younger generations are keen to progress and have some input into decision-making processes, they also have a high awareness of their employers’ responsibilities when it comes to health and wellbeing. By way of contrast, Baby Boomers (born in the mid-1940s to mid-1960s) were brought up in a time when there was more stigma attached to taking time off due to illness, which has resulted in the modern-day problem of presenteeism, where staff show up for work despite being unwell.

But although younger employees may feel more empowered to ask for the health and wellbeing services they need, just because older generations are more reticent does not mean they would not benefit from them too. In the US, for example, suicide rates are highest among members of the Baby Boomer generation, which would appear to indicate a requirement for better mental health support.

The impact on individuals of regularly working over and above contracted hours in terms of stress levels, sleep problems and overall health should also not be overlooked. For instance, a survey of more than 1,000 UK workers and 250 employers conducted by independent recruitment website Totaljobs revealed that 58% of 18 to 34 year olds worried their boss and colleagues would think they were failing to work hard enough if they left the office on time – although the figure dropped to more like 29% among workers aged 55 and over.

Generational pressures

Other pressures being felt by younger generations result from their deep immersion in the digital world. This situation means they are more likely to answer emails at all times of the evening, over the weekend and while on holiday, than older workers. So finding a way to encourage them to take screen-free time and remain offline when not at work is definitely something to think about.

Interestingly though, understanding the sometimes subtle differences between the health needs and wants of each generation can help guide employers towards creating a plan that work for everybody.

A US study on ‘Health, Wellness and the Multi-generational Workforce’, conducted by Nielsen, the CEO Roundtable and American Heart Association, revealed that eating healthily was the top goal of Millennials, while Generation Xers (born between the mid-1960s and early 1980s) and Baby Boomers were more focused on losing weight. A huge 57% of older Millennials also felt their job got in the way of their health compared to just 32% of Baby Boomers and 5% of the Silent Generation.

When it came to experiencing stress at work ‘always, almost always or very often’, older Millennials were again the most likely to be affected, with 42% admitting that this was their experience, while only 28% of Generation X and 20% of Baby Boomers said they felt the same.

Unsurprisingly though, the health complaints most often experienced by different generations vary too. While the Silent Generation may benefit from regular assessments to highlight any potential problems, the Baby Boomers are the age group most likely to develop disabilities and diseases. Female Generation X staff are most likely to be experiencing menopausal symptoms, while this age group in general would also possibly benefit most from flexible working to help them deal with the simultaneous demands of children and ageing parents.

Then there are the Millennials and Generation Z staff who may be keen to access their healthcare support in a digital-friendly way. This means that exploring the possibilities here is key for any employers that have not already done so.

While all of these different considerations may admittedly feel overwhelming, simply recognising that your approach to health and wellbeing needs to work for everyone is a good first step. It may be that your workforce is predominantly made up of one generation, but even if this is the case, it is still important not to forget the minority - even if we are talking about future rather than current staff - who may fall outside of this category.

In essence, the easiest way to start shaping an effective approach here is to simply listen to what a cross-section of staff from across the generations are telling you to ensure you are in a position to help them stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

 Kevin Rogers 

Kevin Rogers is chief executive of not-for-profit health cover provider, Paycare. A qualified accountant and associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, he has worked for more than 25 years in senior management roles at organisations in the manufacturing, automotive and construction sectors.

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As Michael Dell, chairman and chief executive of Dell Technologies, pointed out in a blog at the end of last year, for the “first time in modern history, five generations will be working side-by-side” in the workplace as members of Generation Z start entering the workforce in significant numbers.

This means that employers must be more active than ever before in ensuring that the health needs of everyone - from the Silent Generation (born after the mid-1990s)  to Generation Z (born after 2001) - are met.

The problem is that it can be difficult juggling the needs of older employees, who are now working for longer and retiring later on in life, with those of a younger generation taking their first step on the career ladder. But it can be done.

Experts estimate that by 2020, more than half of the global workforce will be made up of both Millennials (born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s) and Generation Z. But a good chunk of the over-65 population can either not afford to give up work or still wants to continue, which means it cannot be ignored either.

In general terms, while younger generations are keen to progress and have some input into decision-making processes, they also have a high awareness of their employers’ responsibilities when it comes to health and wellbeing. By way of contrast, Baby Boomers (born in the mid-1940s to mid-1960s) were brought up in a time when there was more stigma attached to taking time off due to illness, which has resulted in the modern-day problem of presenteeism, where staff show up for work despite being unwell.

But although younger employees may feel more empowered to ask for the health and wellbeing services they need, just because older generations are more reticent does not mean they would not benefit from them too. In the US, for example, suicide rates are highest among members of the Baby Boomer generation, which would appear to indicate a requirement for better mental health support.

The impact on individuals of regularly working over and above contracted hours in terms of stress levels, sleep problems and overall health should also not be overlooked. For instance, a survey of more than 1,000 UK workers and 250 employers conducted by independent recruitment website Totaljobs revealed that 58% of 18 to 34 year olds worried their boss and colleagues would think they were failing to work hard enough if they left the office on time – although the figure dropped to more like 29% among workers aged 55 and over.

Generational pressures

Other pressures being felt by younger generations result from their deep immersion in the digital world. This situation means they are more likely to answer emails at all times of the evening, over the weekend and while on holiday, than older workers. So finding a way to encourage them to take screen-free time and remain offline when not at work is definitely something to think about.

Interestingly though, understanding the sometimes subtle differences between the health needs and wants of each generation can help guide employers towards creating a plan that work for everybody.

A US study on ‘Health, Wellness and the Multi-generational Workforce’, conducted by Nielsen, the CEO Roundtable and American Heart Association, revealed that eating healthily was the top goal of Millennials, while Generation Xers (born between the mid-1960s and early 1980s) and Baby Boomers were more focused on losing weight. A huge 57% of older Millennials also felt their job got in the way of their health compared to just 32% of Baby Boomers and 5% of the Silent Generation.

When it came to experiencing stress at work ‘always, almost always or very often’, older Millennials were again the most likely to be affected, with 42% admitting that this was their experience, while only 28% of Generation X and 20% of Baby Boomers said they felt the same.

Unsurprisingly though, the health complaints most often experienced by different generations vary too. While the Silent Generation may benefit from regular assessments to highlight any potential problems, the Baby Boomers are the age group most likely to develop disabilities and diseases. Female Generation X staff are most likely to be experiencing menopausal symptoms, while this age group in general would also possibly benefit most from flexible working to help them deal with the simultaneous demands of children and ageing parents.

Then there are the Millennials and Generation Z staff who may be keen to access their healthcare support in a digital-friendly way. This means that exploring the possibilities here is key for any employers that have not already done so.

While all of these different considerations may admittedly feel overwhelming, simply recognising that your approach to health and wellbeing needs to work for everyone is a good first step. It may be that your workforce is predominantly made up of one generation, but even if this is the case, it is still important not to forget the minority - even if we are talking about future rather than current staff - who may fall outside of this category.

In essence, the easiest way to start shaping an effective approach here is to simply listen to what a cross-section of staff from across the generations are telling you to ensure you are in a position to help them stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

 Kevin Rogers 

Kevin Rogers is chief executive of not-for-profit health cover provider, Paycare. A qualified accountant and associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, he has worked for more than 25 years in senior management roles at organisations in the manufacturing, automotive and construction sectors.

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Supporting employees through mental health issues

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