The conversations that we’ve been having with employers at www.makeadifference.media suggest that many are now grappling with the challenge of how to meet the very different wellbeing needs of a multigenerational workforce.
In this article, Wendy Rose, formerly Head of Strategic Relationships with Bupa and now Senior Director with health and wellbeing provider Dialogue UK, helps us to navigate the current multigenerational landscape, understand differing wellbeing support expectations and recognise how to embrace age diversity in the workplace.
An ageing workforce
Our global population is ageing, thanks to remarkable advancements in medical care and a growing focus on both physical and mental well-being. As a result, people are generally able to work for longer periods of time, leading to a continued increase in the average retirement age. UK workers are now eligible for the state pension at 66, and this age is expected to rise to 67 in the next 4 years.
This extended work life has been further compounded in the last few years by the ongoing cost of living crisis. In fact, recent research has shown that a quarter of retired adults have considered a part-time job to keep afloat, while 59% had already made enquiries locally to see what work might be available to help make ends meet1.
The emergence of Gen Z
On the other end of the scale, as school and university leavers are entering the UK workforce, an interesting demographic emerges: Generation Z, the generational cohort born between 1997 and 2012. With 4.3 million in employment in 2022, they have become the third-largest generation in the UK’s labour force, and, notably, the most ethnically diverse generation in England and Wales2.
Their entry into the workplace has added a layer of richness to the existing multigenerational workforce, consisting of:
● Traditionalists – born in 1945 or before (making them 77 and above)
● Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 (58 to 77)
● Generation X – born between 1965 and 1976 (46 to 58)
● Millennials – born between 1977 and 1995 (27 to 46)
● Generation Z (Gen Z) – born in 1996 or after (27 and younger)
Currently, a large segment of the global workforce is occupied by Baby Boomers (19%), Generation X (35.5%), and Millennials (39.4%)3. By 2025, however, it’s predicted we’ll see Generation Z constitute 27% of the workforce4.
Strength in diversity
Multigenerational workforces bring a catalogue of benefits, thanks to diverse perspectives and extensive knowledge derived from both experience and forward-thinking innovation. Contrasting opinions and social beliefs, such as those starkly observed in Gen Z’s views on Brexit and environmental issues, enrich this diversity.
The amalgamation of skill sets from various generations can be incredibly valuable when confronting challenges and finding solutions. Older workers can draw on their wealth of experience to mentor younger team members and assist their career development, while younger generations can assist senior colleagues by helping them become more comfortable with change, learn to use new software and collaborative tools, as well as leverage social media in the workplace.
The uniqueness of Gen Z’s identity and more inclusive attitudes towards gender and sexuality also reflect a much broader shift in societal norms which can translate to the workplace.
Alongside the benefits, managing a multigenerational workforce is not without its challenges. One example is the way communication is evolving between generations. Email and direct messaging are almost replacing phone calls, while more people opt for virtual meetings over face-to-face ones. Even WhatsApp is an accepted means of client and colleague communication in many organisations. Style, tone, and method can all differ greatly5.
One of the most apparent distinctions between generations is what they both need and expect from their employer in terms of benefits. Older employees may require specific support for age-related health concerns or navigating various life stages, particularly as they approach retirement. On the other hand, millennials and Gen Z have played a significant role in destigmatising mental health and being proactive about wellness. They readily embrace and prioritise mental wellbeing, making it essential for employers to create a supportive workplace culture to attract and retain these younger employees. This probably represents the biggest shift from previous generations.
Wellbeing support expectations
Speaking with our Associate Medical Director at Dialogue Health Technologies, Dr. Stephanie Moynihan, we discussed how the provision of healthcare for employees has naturally evolved over time, as employers and companies have a greater recognition for the duty of care they have towards those in their employ. One of the more noticeable elements in this evolution is the growing prevalence of mental health support services, with many companies now offering everything from ‘personal days’ to full-scale in-house counselling services.
This addition to healthcare benefits or programmes can arguably be attributed in large part to the younger generations entering the UK workforce. In the days when Baby Boomers took up their first positions, they likely would not have expected to share any mental health concerns with an employer, let alone be offered support towards their wellness.
Today, this support is more widely available, which is a positive step in the ongoing journey of prioritising mental health. Nonetheless, there are still further strides to be taken in workplaces to encourage uptake and understanding amongst managers in order to truly bring their employer’s healthcare offering up-to-date and suitable for all.
During a recent presentation, we identified four different personas when it comes to addressing mental health issues, which transcend generations:
● The Initiator – Prefers to solve mental health issues on their own, often seen with older generations
● The Explorer – Isn’t yet comfortable engaging with a therapist and opts for anonymous self-help tool
● The Aspirer – Seeks immediate guidance and structure
● The Rationaliser – Wants to express themselves and be deeply understood, often seen with with younger generations as mental health issues lose their previously-held stigma
It is important for employers and managers to understand that these aren’t fixed categorisations, but rather a spectrum of how employee engagement can change. Research has shown that an adaptive wellbeing programme can reduce employee turnover by up to 55%6, indicative of a positive working environment, supportive culture, and engaged workforce.
Continuing the conversation
Promoting inclusion and open dialogue is pivotal in effectively managing generational differences. Employers need to engage interactive programmes, initiatives, and tools which can be personalised to resonate with the varying needs of employees – their interests, their concerns, and their overall wellness – in order to increase job satisfaction and retention of top talent. Hanging on to traditional wellbeing methods which overlook the specific needs of different generations will likely lead to disengagement and unmet wellness objectives.
In order to drive measurable uptake and change, there needs to be active encouragement originating from senior leadership. This trickle-down effect increases participation and motivation, in addition to helping employees value their wellbeing in the workplace and more broadly. Training should be provided to those in managerial positions on how to best communicate and promote the benefits of a holistic wellness approach to a multigenerational workforce, and differing forms of communication and incentives need to be engaged to make it more participatory across the board7.
By acknowledging and embracing age diversity in the workplace and promoting employee wellbeing in consequence, employers can more effectively navigate challenges and harness the benefits of a multigenerational workforce with its variety and skills and experiences. This is a step toward a future where workplaces are not just places of business, but communities where people grow, innovate, and change the world together.
About the author
Wendy is a seasoned expert in employee benefits, wellbeing, and mental health with a career spanning over 20 years. As a recognised authority in workplace health, she provides insights driven by her extensive experience in the field.
From co-founder of an occupational health and employee wellbeing enterprise which she sold to BHSF, her journey then took her to Bupa, one of the UK’s leading healthcare companies, where she held the position of Head of Strategic Relationships. There, she was instrumental in the launch of Covid-19 support services for workplaces and was at the forefront of crafting innovative strategies to help HR teams adapt to the challenges of hybrid working. Having personally witnessed the transformative power of effective employee wellbeing solutions, Wendy possesses a profound understanding of their commercial implications. Today, she continues her mission at Dialogue, leading health and wellbeing organisation primarily operating in Canada and the UK, aiding diverse organisations in crafting supportive and thriving workplace environments.
1 Quarter of retirees considering return to work due to cost of living crisis | The Independent 2 Number of people employed (aged 16-65) in the United Kingdom from 1992 to 2022, by generation 3Johns Hopkins University: Gen Z In The Workplace: How Should Companies Adapt? 4https://www.zurich.com/en/media/magazine/2022/how-will-gen-z-change-the-future-of-work 5 Multigenerational Workforce: Benefits, Challenges, and 9 Best Practices (aihr.com) 6 Managing presenteeism: a discussion paper,” Centre for Mental Health, May 23, 2011 7 Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce in Workplace Wellness Programs (cdc.gov)
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