The pandemic shined the brightest light yet on the differences among the generations in today’s workforce — differences that the hybrid work model will only exacerbate. Employers who hope to create a caring, collaborative, and productive culture need to understand the differences in the multigenerational workforce and be sure they have a total wellness solution that can reach and engage everyone.

Five and counting

Today’s workforce is incredibly diverse in many ways, but especially in age. The U.S. working population now includes five generations, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as:

  • Traditionalists (also called the Silent Generation) — born between 1928 and 1945
  • Baby boomers — born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X  — born between 1965 and 1980
  • Millennials — born between 1981 and 1996
  • Generation Z — born in 1997 or later

But those dry statistics only tell part of the story of HR’s challenges. Younger generations are coming of age and entering the workforce in greater numbers, at the same time older individuals are choosing to work longer. Millennials already account for over a third of the U.S. labor force and are now the nation’s single largest generational workforce group. At the same time, the number of older Americans is expected to more than double between 2014 and 2060, and a majority of boomers are still on the job.

The good news is that although a multigenerational workforce presents some obstacles to HR, they’re arguably more productive and have less turnover than less diverse work populations, generationally speaking. If you adopt the mindset that it’s a good thing to have several generations contributing to your company culture, the next step is to listen and respond to the different goals and types of support each generation leans toward. If you do that, you’ll be paving the way for a workforce that is healthier and more productive.

For example: Gen Z is hurting

The youngest generation in your workforce, Gen Z, is overlooked, at risk, and will need to be re-energized, according to research from Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index. Based on a study of more than 30,000 individuals in 31 countries, the Index concluded 60% of Gen Z workers — currently between the ages of 18 and 25 — say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling right now. Compared with other generations in the study, Gen Z workers are more likely to struggle balancing work with life and to feel exhausted after a typical day of work.

Gen Z has also been the most adversely affected by the pandemic in terms of finances. Almost one-third of Gen Z lost their jobs during the crisis, compared with 19% of millennials, 18% of Gen X, and 13% of baby boomers.

Engaging your multigenerational workforce in wellness programs

The following strategies from the CDC’s Workplace Health Resource Center can help you ensure all your employees feel valued, empowered, and invested in.

  • Address top health issues relevant to every generation
    According to research reported by the CDC, these are the predominant health concerns of different generations:
      • For millennials: financial health, stress, and lack of sleep. Ways to support them include offering more work-life flexibility, including modified work hours.
      • For Gen Xers and baby boomers: Weight gain due to inactivity. Ways to support them include reimbursement for or sponsored participation in a range of physical activities and events, or employer-sponsored discounts or passes at fitness centers.
      • For all generations, the CDC says employers can benefit by offering on-site training sessions that promote resilience, including physical activity and mindfulness.
  • Encourage participation
    Financial incentives drive all generations. But, according to the CDC’s report:
      • Millennials place a higher value on free access to fitness centers, along with time to participate
      • Older workers value the overall benefits of a wellness program
      • Younger employees are twice as likely to engage in technology-based health programs through social media or webinar communication platforms compared with their older counterparts, who may prefer email or newsletters
  • Personalize the program
    Millennials expect personalized apps tailored to their specific needs, so your wellness programs should have resources and services that provide this level of personalization. Many millennials also are familiar with and expect gaming for health challenges. 

Ignoring the needs of any one group in your multigenerational workforce will likely result in lower productivity and job satisfaction. Supporting the varied health and wellness needs and expectations of a multigenerational workforce, combined with the impact of the hybrid work model, presents HR with one of its greatest challenges in a post-COVID-19 world. 

But properly addressed, it also represents a huge opportunity to develop a more collaborative, more productive workforce. That outcome becomes more likely when companies partner with a holistic wellness platform — a full system of programs that address employees’ physical, mental, and emotional health, regardless of their generation or whether they are in the office or working from home or on the road.