How to Promote Workplace Wellbeing Across Generations

Generational conflict is nothing new, and the competing needs of each has implications for our workplace wellbeing strategies, explained Nichola Ebbern, Associate Director, Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure at the Workplace Wellbeing Show.

The 21st Century is the first time we’ve seen five generations exist simultaneously, each with radically different views on how the world should work, and therefore radically different wellbeing requirements. They are:

  • “The Silent Generation” – more of an American term, this refers to the last generation born before the end of the Second World War. The youngest are in their late seventies
  • Baby Boomers – born in the post-war baby boom, between 1945 and around 1964
  • Generation X – born between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s, this generation is characterised as being more individualistic
  • Generation Y – also known as the Millennials, this generation – born between 1981 and 1996 – is the first to have experienced the internet in their childhood and adolescence
  • Generation Z – the youngest generation entering the workforce, the so-called ‘Snowflakes’ born from 1996 onwards

The differences between these generations is reflected in the way they respond to workplace wellbeing, and each benefits from a new, tailored approach to mental health and wellbeing provision.

This approach is measured by different metrics: physical health, mental health, emotional wellbeing, and financial security.

Generational differences matter

Financial security in particular is a key indicator of generational difference. Older generations tend to save for their retirement, having bought property early in their lives, whereas younger generations are forced to save more of their money for their immediate future – property being considerably more expensive in 2019.

This means each generation requires advice and guidance that applies to their unique circumstances – HR professionals therefore need to introduce a strategy that combats the different needs of each generation, rather than a simple one-size-fits-all wellbeing strategy.

This approach applies across many wellbeing factors. For instance, younger generations might find their sleep impacted by late-night use of mobile devices, while older people often sleep less naturally as a result of changing circadian rhythms. A flexible working policy that lets employees tailor their schedule around these competing pressures is just one way to account for these differences.

Improving workplace wellbeing across generations requires a collaborative and holistic approach. FMs need to develop an understanding of how different generations utilise a workspace, introduce benefits and perks that account for this, and employ generation-appropriate communication.

Data can help

Investigating and tracking data is key to making these improvements. FMs and HR professionals can use data to measure productivity – for instance, via absence rates and what employees are producing, as well as profits – to better understand the impact of wellbeing programmes. They can also look at environmental data through building management systems (Ebbern mentioned CO2 levels, which has an invisible effect on individual performance) to ensure the workplace is optimised.

Managers are also important. They need to understand the role they play in promoting workplace wellbeing, and they must have strong interpersonal skills that can be used to encourage an open environment and a more compassionate culture.

Doing something is better than nothing

The impact of this is clear: a strong wellbeing programme is vital for attracting the best staff – younger generations in particular are more likely to apply for jobs that come with an attractive wellbeing package.

In her summary, Ebbern simply stated that ‘doing something is better than doing nothing’. Even incremental changes can have a huge impact on workplace wellbeing, and ensuring these changes are tailored to each generation ensures your entire workforce, from the youngest ‘snowflake’ to the oldest baby boomer, is impacted.