Bridging the Wellness Generation Gap

I remember when we held our first “employee engagement” meeting here at Frenkel. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, differing in age and professional level in the company. Once we opened the floor to ideas about desired wellness offerings, the generational gaps in interests revealed themselves.

Younger employees requested things like company-sponsored happy hours, post-work spin classes and paid volunteer opportunities – while more seasoned employees wanted walking clubs, chair yoga and weight-management programs.

The same issue has come up with multiple employers. When I ask about age demographics, many clients respond with “it’s all over the place” or “it ranges from early-20s to mid-60s.” Not much help with narrowing down options… After-work activities are tough when the population is either single-living-in-the-city or commuting to their families in the suburbs every day. Boomers are the first generation dealing with the stress of finding quality caregiving benefits for aging parents, while millennials are responsible for record-breaking student loan debt.

For the first time in history, five generations are rubbing shoulders in the workplace; and each generation is associated with distinct stereotypes. A one-size-fits-all approach to your wellness program activities probably won’t cut it (unless it only involves free food and chair massages!).

So, who are we talking about? Here’s a list of the major groups and their general birth years:

  • The Silent Generation, born 1925 to 1946
  • Baby Boomers, born 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X, born 1965 to 1980
  • Millennials, born 1981 to 1997
  • Generation Z, born after 1997

Looking at claims-based programming (e.g., disease management, health counseling), we see more differences come into play. Baby boomers are expected to be less healthy than previous generations, many of them dealing with impending chronic disease (think: diabetes, obesity, heart disease). And today, young adults are more at risk for mental illness than ever before – they’ve even been named the “anxious generation.”

How can we bridge the gap, both in wellness and improving the effectiveness of your organization?

  • Implement reverse mentoring or mixed-age work teams to help dismantle stereotypes and promote integration. Many companies are asking millennials (typically the tech-fiends of the bunch) to update executives on the latest and greatest, while more experienced employees teach business intuition and career development
  • Offer activities that extend to all generations, like lunchtime cooking or yoga classes
  • Provide appealing incentives (cash is a big winner)

And last but not least – start an employee engagement group. Meet over a healthy lunch and open it up to everyone. Let employees take the lead on initiatives they want to be involved in and provide the opportunity for ideas and motivation to flow across five different generations.

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