Helen Smith: How to look after the needs of an age-diverse workforce

It is no secret that employers that prioritise employee wellbeing and look after their staff well are more likely to reap rewards. Not only does the workforce benefit from a better working experience and healthier lives, but the business can also attract better talent, build loyalty and improve motivation and performance.

Today’s workforce

The modern workforce is growing increasingly age-diverse, as employees delay retirement to secure a better financial future. Individuals could be working from their teens well into their 60s or 70s.

Over 50s now make up almost a third of the workforce, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in January 2018, while a 2016 report by LV= found that the number of over 65s in work is increasing three-times faster than the rate of younger workers.

It is not unusual to see all five key generations working side-by-side, within one organisation: The Silent Generation, aged 73 and above; Baby Boomers, aged between 55 and 72; Generation X, between 39 and 54; Millennials, aged from 24 to 38; and Generation Z, aged between 18 and 23.

The challenge for employers is that the needs and preferences of one generation can be vastly different to the next, meaning a one-size-fits-all approach to wellbeing is simply no longer enough for a multigenerational workforce.

How different are each generation’s needs?  

Take the youngest generation in our workforce today: Generation Z. New to the workforce, these employees bring a fresh perspective and a new set of skills. Their lifetime familiarity with digital technology, for example, is hugely valuable to any business.

However, figures published by the NHS in February 2017, show that an increasing number are seeking treatment for mental health issues, and many are beginning their careers with the burden of high student debt and anxiety around finances. It is therefore crucial that employers provide the right mental health support, such as 24/7 helplines, and offer financial education or support.

In contrast, according to research published by Bupa in April 2019, older workers, such as those in the Baby Boomer generation, are reportedly less comfortable asking for support from an employer around their mental health.

Organisations may need to specifically work on breaking the stigma around these issues and creating a supportive environment in which employees of all ages feel they can access help without judgement.

The benefits of a multigenerational approach 

If employers want to continue seeing five generations working smoothly side-by-side, each bringing unique and valuable experiences, skills and talents to an organisation, they must prioritise their wellbeing and happiness at work.

The most successful wellbeing programmes will be those that recognise the specific needs and expectations of today’s changing and diverse workforce. So, employers must take the time to focus on each generation independently, in order to understand their needs.

Helen Smith is chief commercial officer and business sponsor for wellbeing strategy at Benenden Health