Workplace wellness strategies

More businesses are adopting workplace wellness programs to encourage healthy behaviors and reduce costs associated with chronic health problems. For the first time in modern history, however, the workforce is comprised of employees spanning three generations, making a “one size fits all” approach to wellness programs obsolete.

The three generations in today’s workforce include Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. Each generation has its own set of values, communication style and expectations about their work environment as it relates to their health.  The companies we work with have realized that effective wellness initiatives must appeal to this diverse workforce. As a result, employers must first understand the different expectations and unique needs of their multigenerational workers before implementing a wellness program.

Generational Perspectives

Baby Boomers are the largest cohort, comprising 38 percent of the U.S. workforce and “tend to have a strong work ethic, good communication skills, and emotional maturity,” according to data from AARP. Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age and are dealing with financial stress, chronic health conditions and possibly caring for an older relative. The Center on Aging and Work estimates that 4 out of 10 baby boomers expect to postpone retirement for financial reasons.

Generation X accounts for 32 percent of the U.S. labor force, according to the non-profit research organization Catalyst. Many in this generation grew up with both parents in the workforce or in households where parents were divorced and learned to thrive in the midst of chaos and change. On the job, they tend to be self-reliant and enjoy achieving measurable results while streamlining systems and processes.

Millennials are the fastest-growing cohort, comprising 25 percent of the U.S. workforce, estimates Catalyst. Millennials are tech savvy, impatient and idealistic, having grown up seeing the world as global, connected, and accessible 24/7. Due to social media and connection to a larger global community, they exhibit high levels of social concern and responsibility. As children of “soccer moms “ and “helicopter parents,” they expect support from their managers and tend to be more open to employers taking an active role in their health.

With these varying characteristics in mind, here are wellness programming strategies to consider for a multi-generational workforce:

1. Wellness initiatives should use communication that engage members of different generations
• Provide information in multiple ways and let employees choose. Baby Boomers tend to prefer traditional methods like printed newsletters, books, posters, paycheck stuffers, and brochures, whereas as Gen X and Millennials prefer more modern methods such as e-newsletters, online content, email campaigns, blogs, and text messages.

2. Make sure the program delivery meets the needs of each generation to maximize participation.
• Find out what will motivate your employees to participate in the wellness program. According to The 2014 Consumer Health Mindset survey, 40 percent of Millenials were more likely to participate in health and wellness programs that are “easy or convenient to do” and not necessarily just because they were offered.

3. Create a wellness program that appeals to the health issues of a multi-generational workforce

• Engage your workforce and find out what aspect of wellness is important to each cohort within the organization. For example, results from the 2014 Consumer Health Mindset survey also found more than half (52 percent) of Millennials said “living or working in a healthy environment” is influential to their personal health.
• Structure wellness programs around health risks.  Aim to keep the healthy employees at low risk and move the higher risk employees to low risk.  According to a 2007 McKinsey survey, “young people (ages 18 to 34) are more concerned about their dental needs (44 percent) and protecting themselves from the consequences of major accidents (38 percent). Seniors tend to be much more concerned about managing major medical events (49 percent) or the requirements of long-term care (47 percent).”

A “one size fits all “approach to workplace wellness is no longer relevant.  Employers who want to attract millennial workers and retain Generation X and Baby Boomers need to offer wellness programs that take a holistic approach and meet the needs of this diverse workforce.

Categories: Management & Leadership