Generational wellness: How to reach employees of all ages

A company’s ability to communicate corporate wellness initiatives may be just as important as the company’s actual offerings. After all, what’s the point of providing a service if no one is taking advantage of it?

It all comes down to finding the perfect recipe to reach your company’s population, according to Roger Koger, director of field operations for fitness and wellness at EXOS. “We’ve found it best to communicate the same information several ways,” he says. “A blanket email can help set the stage for the entire population. The more times an employee is faced with the information, the more likely they will retain it.”

However, the most effective touch points on how you can develop a suitable employee engagement program may depend on your employees’ ages. Older employees may appreciate email notifications about in-person speakers, while younger employees will likely respond better to social media or text messaging. And it’s not just about word choice. It’s about understanding what motivates each generation, from baby boomers to Generation Z.

Recognize the needs for baby boomers.

First and foremost: Baby boomers want to learn how to be active and healthy later in life, Koger says. They have grandchildren to keep up with, sports to play, and vacations to take. Boomers have an end-goal in mind, and successful communication will focus on results, says Cheryl Bowles, senior director of field operations at EXOS. “The older generation is reaction-based, meaning they want corporate wellness based on medical test results,” she says. Younger employees, on the other hand, value activities more.

The key here is reaching boomers face-to-face. “The more mature workforce is willing to attend an in-person presentation or video conference to gain more details about a topic,” Koger says. ”Making that personal connection is important to them, so having a ‘face’ to relate to is crucial.”

Another way of increasing participation and retention is to recognize boomers for their accomplishments, Koger says. Remember, they’re generally results oriented. Koger suggests making a company announcement, including them in a newsletter, or sending them a personal card or email congratulating them on their successes. “We — and I say ‘we’ because I border on the boomer age line — we like to have a sense of accomplishment and know our efforts were noticed,” he says.

Older employees may appreciate email notifications about in-person speakers, while younger employees will likely respond better to social media or text messaging.

For Generation X, bring in the experts.

Gen Xers made up the majority of the American workforce until they were unseated by millennials in 2015. Even so, 53 million Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) were in the labor force in 2017.

They account for half of leadership positions around the globe. Because of this, they crave external expertise — whether for dietary recommendations or health insurance information. “Having a speaker in front of them and available to answer questions is extremely valuable,” says Koger. Younger employees, on the other hand, might prefer to do research themselves rather than listen to what they may perceive as a lecture.

Additionally, this is a generation that thrives on team building and social interaction. Corporate wellness leaders should use this to their advantage when creating employee engagement campaigns. “Group training and activities are big with all groups but for different reasons,” Bowles says. “Younger generations like them for competition, but older generations like them for camaraderie.” Consider these motivations when framing your next group activity.

Focus on experiences for millennials.

Millennials are a group that value health more than ever before. Many are willing to shop for a job that offers a better work-life balance. In fact, millennials were willing to take a $7,600 pay cut for improved quality of work life, according to Fidelity And that’s where corporate wellness can excel — if you understand what drives employees and which activities they’re most likely to embrace.

Koger says millennials and Generation Z (the generation younger than millennials) appreciate the social aspect of classes or group activities. “They might not be as interested in sitting and listening to a speaker because they are eager to ‘do,’” he says.

Why is “doing” such a big motivator for your biggest workplace generation? “Millennials are focused on creating memories, or ‘the experience,’” Koger says. “They would like the opportunity to experience life as an incentive, such as an extra day off to go hiking with friends or do something they find mentally and/or physically exciting.”

Don’t discount the great benefit of asking employees what they want and how they prefer to get their information.

Keep it short and sweet to appeal to Generation Z.

Generation Z makes up about a third of the American population — meaning they’ve surpassed millennials at approximately 60 million people. It’s likely you already have some in your organization, though you might have mistakenly lumped them in with millennials. The beginning of this generation is people in their early 20s and just starting careers.

They’re tech savvy, sure. But it’s a different kind than their older siblings. They grew up with micro-form, instantaneous platforms like Vine and Snapchat. Human resources execs should take that into consideration when sharing their next wellness event or challenge.

Koger recommends keeping communications as short as possible, providing the vital details but not much else. And definitely no attachments in emails. “A good practice is to keep an email the length — or shorter than — the preview screen. It’ll grab the recipient’s attention because they feel they can read the entire communication at once,” he says.

They could also be your newest (and biggest) workplace wellness champions. Market research organization The Hartman Group cites Gen Z as “likely the most educated teen cohort the U.S. has seen when it comes to health and wellness,” thanks to growing up in a more health-conscious time.

The bottom line

Regardless of generational makeup, Koger suggests trying a variety of activities, approaches, and events. The recipe that works for your company may surprise you. And don’t discount the great benefit of asking employees what they want and how they prefer to get their information. “When a population feels as if they have been heard and their thoughts and opinions are valued, they’re more likely to participate,” says Koger.

About the Author

Celeste Sepessy

Celeste Sepessy is a Phoenix-based journalist specializing in health and fitness content. She currently works and teaches full-time at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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