Why — and How — to Build a Wellness Program That Caters to Millennials and Generation Z

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We’re in the midst of a key generational shift, and employee wellness programs aren’t keeping up in the job market.

By 2025, millennials and Gen. Z-ers will comprise the majority of the global workforce. For better or worse, these individuals didn’t come of professional age in the 20th-century workplace. As a result, these younger workers were never conditioned to withstand the rigors (and, let’s face it, injustices) of corporate politics; they never learned to “just stick it out” for their next pay raise or promotion.

Instead, millennials and Gen. Z-ers were raised from an early age to believe they mattered and deserved to be heard. They grew up in environments designed to make each individual feel truly unique and successful — and yet, paradoxically, they also grew up with the fear that they could be the next victim of senseless public violence. They saw their parents lose their jobs during the Great Recession. They’ve heard the warnings about Social Security disappearing and pension systems going bankrupt.

Taken together, these conditions gave millennials and Generation Z an overriding drive for self-actualization beyond simply earning a paycheck. And yet, employee engagement is often low among these younger workers. For example, a 2016 Gallup study found millennials were some of the least engaged of all workers. It follows, then, that millennials would garner a reputation for changing jobs frequently. And only half of 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did at their age, part of a long-term trend of downward mobility. In a 2016 study, Gallup found that less than 40 percent of millennials are “thriving” in at least one aspect of their well-being.

4 Ways to Build a Wellness Program That Resonates With Young Workers

Why are millennials and Gen. Z-ers so disengaged at work? What can employers do to attract and retain these talented employees?

Part of the problem is that many contemporary employee wellness programs don’t speak to young workers’ concerns. Millennials and Gen. Z-ers want employers to help them thrive at work, but few organizations are doing that.

To create a wellness program that appeals to younger workers — and gives them a reason to stick around — try these four tips:

1. Design Employee Wellness Programs that Focus on the Whole Person, Not Just Insurance Costs

Old-school employee wellness programs were often designed to help businesses save money by lowering the cost of insurance coverage. Because of that, traditional wellness programs tend to focus only on the physical health of the employee — sometimes, they even track employees’ wellness-related behaviors. While data can be used to benchmark, it doesn’t enable or encourage productive action and could cause increased stress among employees.

For your employees, well-being is about more than just their bodies. Give them a wellness program that speaks to all facets of their lives.

2. Stop Emphasizing Billable Requirements

Requirements for 100 percent utilization when it comes to billable hours (i.e., billing a minimum of forty hours a week) may look like a good way to increase profits. It might even work in the short term! But an exhausted worker costs their employer $1,200-3,200 per year in terms of declining job performance. The returns will diminish while the culture of long hours remains the same.

3. Give Employees Time and Encouragement to Be Physically Active

Long hours also encourage employees to remain glued to their workstations. That’s a problem because physically inactive employees are less productive, while employees who are vigorously active at least once per week are more productive take fewer sick days on average.

4. Walk the Walk

One of the best ways to support and encourage employee well-being is to lead by example. Wellness programs mean nothing if senior leaders don’t live out the organization’s promise to care for employees. Leaders need to give employees permission for self-care.

Business leaders will sometimes say things like, “Well, we told employees to take time away from work if they needed it. If they didn’t take the time, they must not have needed it.” But if employees don’t see their bosses ever take time away from work, they’ll pick up the implicit message that time off is unacceptable.

That’s why you need to lead by example. Make it okay for employees to take care of themselves emotionally, mentally, and physically. They’ll follow your lead.

The bottom line: Not caring for your employees could be costing your business.  Today’s workers, especially millennials and Gen. Z-ers, want to work for employers that support their well-being. Take a look at your benefits packages and wellness programs to ensure they’re really meeting your employees’ needs.

And then go beyond that. Look at how your company does recruitment, retention, and engagement. Are there opportunities to improve? Can you make your organization more appealing to your employees — and more conducive to their best work?

Lorna Borenstein is CEO/founder of Grokker and author of It’s Personal: The Business Case for Caring.

By Lorna Borenstein