U.S. Workplace – Four Generations at One Site
Editor’s Note: The following article is by Paul Ashley, an advisor with FirstPerson, an Indianapolis-based professional advisory firm specializing in benefits, human resources, compliance, communication and wellness. It appeared on the Inside INdiana Business website.
America is facing a situation it has never seen before: Four generations in the work place. As a result, employers find themselves trying to meet a diverse set of expectations, especially when it comes to designing benefit programs.
What’s this like? Well, imagine for a moment that you’re a travel agent helping a family plan a big reunion trip. You sit down with a cross-section of generations and ask what they want out of their vacation.
You learn that Grandma wants a homey place where she can relax with the whole family. Mom and Dad say want a nice hotel with Wi-Fi so they can stay in touch with the office. The younger cousins want to be near some nightlife. And the youngest of the bunch want to be where there are lots of people their age.
Now imagine trying to create a benefits package that appeals to that same set of generations. Your job? Balance the varied interests of a wide spectrum of ages and create an affordable plan that serves everyone’s needs and expectations.
It’s a considerable challenge, and a very real one in a workplace where Gen Y/Millennials and their Gen X peers work alongside aging Boomers and even pre-Boomers who plan to hang around longer than their predecessors (research shows the number of workers expecting to work beyond the age of 65 is increasing).
While this diverse workplace has an impact on virtually every aspect of an organization, it’s in the HR department where it can be most challenging. HR professionals must create benefit packages that can please everyone from new hires raised on doc-in-a-box medicine to older workers with increasingly complex health needs, and from young up-and-comers who aren’t thinking much beyond tomorrow to sandwich-generation professionals who are pinching pennies to care young children and older parents.
Where to start? Well, first of all, you have to recognize that the generations have distinct characteristics and expectations. For example, as Greg Hammill, retired Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Business Director and former AT&T director of employment, noted in FDU Magazine, the pre-Boomers get a lot of their satisfaction simply from succeeding in a job that they do because they feel a certain loyalty to their employer. Boomers, on the other hand, are more focused on how much they make, the title that have and the achievements they attain in the workplace.
Gen X workers want the freedom to be entrepreneurial in their jobs, and they measure success more in personal terms than organizational ones. And Gen Y and Millennials? They want a chance to work with creative, fascinating people in a fun and exciting place… and they’ll move on to the next place if it seems more exciting and fun.
By recognizing these – and many other differences – HR teams can begin to evolve from a culture that simply manages inter-generational conflict to one that embraces and leverages the strengths that comes from hiring a range of ages.
As strengths are identified, unique needs can be assessed. For example, the compensation and benefit needs of an empty-nest Baby Boomer differ from those of a recent-college-grad Millennial. The empty nester will focus on stability, mentoring others and investing in the health and wellness benefits that will allow him or her to stay productive as years pass. A college grad, on the other hand, would focus on training, mobility, income potential and protection of future wages.
How does an employer strike such a balance? By supplementing the core benefits package with a range of offerings – such as long-term care, adoption and parental-leave benefits – and wellness options that engage all ages. By providing maximize flexibility and choice within the benefits platform, the employer replaces one-size-fits-all thinking with a carefully constructed package that is more tailor-made to the organization.
Is this extra work? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. With four generations and four sets of expectations in the workplace, employers have a unique opportunity to turn a potential risk into a key corporate asset, adding dimension to the workplace culture and capabilities that expand the bottom-line.