Today’s fast-paced economy requires the workforce to have a laser focus and high levels of stamina, mental toughness and personal fortitude. Many high-performing companies navigate the rigors of bottom-line boardroom expectations by promoting a healthy, engaging workplace culture through wellness programs that accommodate the needs of multigenerational diversity.
Shifting The Workplace
Workplace wellness programs have exploded since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was established in 1971. Their initial objectives focused on reducing company expense and increasing worker safety. But today, employers are meeting the needs and desires of a multi-generational workforce by moving beyond the demarcation of physical health and expanding the spectrum for emotional, financial, career and social programming.
It may come as a surprise that workplace wellness initiatives have a long history in the U.S. One of the first came in 1897 from the Pullman Company, manufacturer of railroad sleeping cars, when it introduced an athletic program for its workers. Then along came National Cash Register, which instituted twice-daily exercise breaks, built an employee gym, and even created a 325-acre recreation park for its workers. These early adopters recognized the connection between productivity and employee wellbeing—as well as the positive impact on the bottom line.
Looking toward the future, overall societal health can be improved by leveraging an understanding of the composite of today’s workforce. Five generations working together—Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z—have shifted the workplace environment, each bringing their own set of performance behaviors and expectations.
Multi-generational diversity presents a challenge for employers and workplace wellness programs. Whether the organization is small, medium or large, employee engagement is necessary to lessen the stresses related to excessive multi-tasking, financial anxieties, improving mental health, or caregiving for an ailing family member which have a negative impact on performance.
At the end of the day, one’s choice of employment should be made for financial stability and personal satisfaction, allowing an individual to live safely, happily and healthily. Yet, how does this translate if the employee is a Traditionalist, Boomer, Gen X, Millennial or Gen Z? The articles on generational criticism are numerous, but truthfully, the differences between generations can provide valuable insights for the future. Today’s business cultures are beginning to set employee wellness standards which prioritize a person’s whole health—both at home and in the workplace.
A Three-Pronged Strategy
By adopting a three-pronged strategy involving conscious leadership, understanding the determinants of workforce productivity and designing a personalized approach, wellness programs move beyond onboarding perks to the creation of a culture with reduced turnover and increased employee participation.
When conscious leadership is exhibited by top executives, employees are encouraged to bring their best self to the workplace each day. And yes, a conscious leadership style can be learned and cultivated. While it may come naturally for some, the day-to-day business atmosphere can easily become reactionary—the result of a slew of meetings, phone calls and never-ending agendas. This “reaction trap” may cause us to revert to our primitive selves, locked in “fight or flight.”
Neuroscience shows that when leaders are in this state, their brain does not function optimally. Instead of making the executive decisions necessary to advance company objectives, scattered energies ripple across the company culture, leaving employees feeling adrift and undervalued. The conscious leader, however, understands their responsibility to establish a culture of trust, compassion and broad influence for the entire team. Successful conscious leaders create a healthy cultural awareness when bringing their whole self to their position. By participating in the company wellness program and encouraging employees to follow their example by showing up as their “best self,” they demonstrate authenticity.
Measuring workplace productivity as the relationship of health to the wellbeing of staff allows companies to ascertain links between lost productivity in terms of presenteeism and absenteeism, in association with a range of factors, such as:
- Job and work environment (workplace or financial stress);
- Personal (lifestyle risk factors or addictions); and
- Health and physical risks (chronic disease, emotional wellbeing).
A full understanding of the impact of health determinants on a multigenerational workforce can be a frontline source of information used to reframe workplace wellness programs. One example can be seen in the deterioration of nutritional health from chronic diseases like obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Chronic ailments drain employers through lost productivity and employee sick days—and they do not discriminate between the generations.
According to a recent report from Blue Cross Blue Shield, chronic disease amongst Gen X has surpassed Boomers, and alarmingly, Millennials are less healthy than Gen X’ers were at the same age. Changing diet behaviors—from rich, hearty meat and potatoes for Boomers, to Gen X’ers who tend to consume more home-cooked meals, to Millennials who support local foods but often eat out for convenience, making healthy choices more difficult—has not slowed the rate of our nation’s obesity.
A nourished body is necessary to fight chronic disease and slow the aging process. Companies that emphasize nutritious cafeteria menus, healthy snack options, onsite cooking demonstrations or schedule a monthly lunch & learn to educate staff on healthier lifestyles have teams with higher energy and overall wellbeing.
Living Support Tools
Strong workplace wellness programs are living support tools aligned with company objectives that balance the needs and desires of the workforce and reinforce healthy behaviors. I believe nurturing healthy behavior in the workplace can advance societal health and stimulate business performance. Lasting change of any kind requires a team effort. Choosing to become knowledgeable and motivated—and participating on a workplace wellness team today—will encourage healthier generations tomorrow. PM
Mary Ardapple Dierker is an integrative wellness strategist and health coach. For more information, visit coreviewcoach.com.