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Wellness Strategies for a Multigenerational Workforce

According to Wellness Strategies for a Multigenerational Workforce, a webcast as presented by the presented by UPMC Health Plan with commentary by Deborah Moss(MD, MPH, FAAP, Senior Medical Director, UPMC for Kids) and Robert Rutkowski (MD, FAAP, Senior Medical Director, Practice Transformation, UPMC Health Plan), employer health care benefits should be designed to meet the diverse generational needs of employees.  This is the first time in history that up to five generations are working alongside each other.  As employers evaluate their health insurance options, either at the annual open enrollment period, through periodic utilization assessments, or when considering benefits as a competitive advantage to attract and retain employees, benefit offerings should reflect the evolving diverse health and wellness needs of a multigenerational workforce.

An infographic from Purdue Global entitled Generational Differences in the Workplace shows the diverse values, beliefs and key historical events that shaped each generation.   Additionally, a 2024 survey done by Rendia shows that each generation makes healthcare decisions in their own way and recommends employer’s benefit offerings have the tools to meet these needs. 

  • Traditionalists/The Greatest Generation—born 1925 to 1945—make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, account for 35 percent of hospital stays and 38 percent of all emergency room medical care.  This generation requires more and longer patient visits, expects a very high level of service from their doctors, follows their doctors’ recommendations, and relies heavily on their doctors for health information and referrals.  Their children — the Baby Boomers — may be making health care decisions for this age group.  This generation typically is managing chronic conditions and thus has a great need for coordination of care and the healthcare benefit offerings should have professionals available 24/7. 
  • Baby Boomers—born 1946 to 1964—is a population that did not grow up with the Internet but has embraced technology and is actively seeking more technology-based ways to connect with doctors.  79 percent of Baby Boomers go online daily to seek health information via online sources.   Baby Boomers prefer in person doctor visits and are likely to act as caregivers for their parents (Greatest Generation) and advisers for their Gen-X and Gen-Y children.  Boomers were the largest generation in the full-time workforce from the late 1970s until late 2011.
  • Generation X—born 1965 to 1980—are another sandwich generation caring for themselves, their children, and their aging parents.  Gen-Xers shop for health care much like they shop for retail goods and services paying attention to brands and respond better to TV and in-office messages. Gen-Xers, like Boomers, actively seek information online, including ratings and review sites though they have short-term expectations of their doctor relationships and will switch providers based on recent experiences.  Gen-Xers were the dominant generational workforce from 2012 to 2018.
  • Millennials—born 1981 to 2000—want digital health options for convenience.  This generation includes more than 80 million adults and is the largest of any of these generations.  This young and healthy age group accesses health care mostly through primary care, urgent care, and OB/GYN providers and tends to show preference for health care brands.  Deemed “digital natives” they seek information from multiple on-line sources. They also value personal relationships with health care providers but will switch doctors if they have a negative experience.
  • Generation Z—born 2001 to 2020 are coined the first Digital Generation.  They have grown up with access to digital technology, are more likely to look for web-based health-related material, and use social media to interact with others about such issues.  This youngest generation may experience unique challenges as they enter the workforce for the first time.  Glassdoor’s 2024 workplace trends reports predicts that Generation Z will outnumber Baby Boomers in the workforce this year for the first time ever.

Per the UPMC webcast, 59.7 million U.S. residents live with multiple generations under one roof which can mean an employee could be in a sandwich generation acting as caregivers for both aging parents and children. Several of the above generations may be working parents and the webcast specifically noted that due to the COVID pandemic, many baby boomer grandparents took up the parent role again due parents’ illness, loss of a parent, or loss of traditional childcare arrangements.   One benefit an employer may consider is to build a sense of community and support in the workplace by establishing employee resource groups (ERG).  ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups with a shared purpose to provide support and access to resources for employees united by a characteristic or interest.  ERG’s may also have the double benefit of fostering more inclusive environments and achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals.

Given that the best benefit offering has no value if not used, employers may also want to conduct periodic campaigns to remind employees of the benefits available to them and the importance of self-care.  Common areas of health concerns for new parents that employer benefits programs should address include parental smoking cessation, maternal health during pregnancy, post-partum depression, breast feeding guidance after birth and upon returning to work, and nutrition guidance.  Per the UPMC webcast, an employee assistance plan can be a great benefit for employees (those with and without children) to allow employees to consult with professional counselors to manage financial stress, post COVID work life balance for working parents due to changes in child care arrangements, relationship stress, housing issues and general mental health for themselves or for family members experiencing mental health issues.    Remote or hybrid work can also raise physical health issues as employees are more sedentary when working from home.

Though out of the control of the employer, there are social determinants of health (SDOH) that have a major impact on people’s health, well-being, and quality of life.  Promoting healthy choices will not eliminate health disparities, though public health organizations and social services such as education, transportation, and housing are actively trying to make improvements.  Healthy People 2030, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion report, cites common SDOH as:

  • Safe housing, transportation, and neighborhoods
  • Racism, discrimination, and violence
  • Education, job opportunities, and income
  • Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities
  • Polluted air and water
  • Language and literacy skills

The common thread throughout each generation’s health care needs is the need for personal involvement in health care decision-making and high-quality, easy-to-understand health information preferably in a digital format (e.g., carrier websites, company intranet portals, carriers apps) to allow web-based appointment scheduling, real-time medical consultations, and the ability to attend telehealth sessions with providers at a time that is convenient for the employee (e.g., before or after working hours). 

According to a CDC article, productivity losses related to personal and family health problems costs US employers $225.8 billon/year and “indirect costs of poor health including absenteeism, disability, or reduced work output may be several times higher than direct medical costs.”   Implementing workplace health programs that improve employee health by preventing or controlling diseases results in improvements in physical, mental, and emotional health plus enhance stamina, concentration, and focus leading to greater work output that often exceeds the cost of the programs.