06 March 2019

Demographic generalisations can disengage employees

Organisations that make assumptions about staff, based on generational demographics risk driving talent away. Businesses need to re-evaluate how they reward and communicate with staff, to ensure no unconscious bias is seeping into the workplace and disengaging talent.

As businesses look to engage their staff, there’s been increasing awareness of the importance of looking at generational demographics. This can be a good first port of call for companies to help them understand their workforce and decide which benefits will hit the mark. But, while it can be a good starting point to understand that different generations are likely to have different needs - depending on their circumstances and life-stage, it’s important not to make assumptions or look at demographics in isolation.

Technological savviness

Whilst Millennials (22-37 years old) still hold the crown for adoption of technology, the gap is rapidly closing with Gen Xers (38-53 years old) and Baby Boomers (54-72 years old). More Gen Xers have tablets than Millennials (64% to 54% respectively) and the gap of those owning a Facebook account has closed to 76% and 82% respectively.*

Companies can fall foul when implementing new technology if they solely aim it at Millennials and younger, as it can alienate the older workforce if they’re excluded from digital benefits and communications. Imagery and content can be so geared towards a younger audience, such as information about childcare vouchers or discounted gym membership schemes, that the older workforce can rapidly disengage.

Money on my mind

Companies can also make the mistake of assuming older staff are more interested in financial education and savings as they plan for retirement, assuming Millennials are more interested in spending what they earn. However, Millennials can have a heavier debt burden than previous generations, due to increased university fees, and may not be able to own a home as property prices continue to inflate.** Therefore, Millennials can be an equally willing audience when it comes to financial education and products that offer financial protection such as group life assurance and income protection, yet employers may overlook them in communications if they base them on assumptions made about their age and perceived lifestyle.

Mental and physical health

Similarly, all generations can be equally engaged with their mental and physical health. The older generations are more likely to deal with stresses such as divorce and juggling child- and eldercare, but the young also face pressures that can put a strain on their mental health, dealing with the darker side of social media.

Equally, employers may think that messages about physical health should be targeted at Generation X and older, for instance to combat the increased risk of illnesses that come with age, such as cardiovascular disease. However, Millennials are actually on track to be the most overweight generation yet***, so in terms of future workforce health and productivity, it’s just as important that support and communication about physical health and activity are targeted at them.

It’s therefore important that support for mental and physical health is offered to all. The crucial point to remember is that it needs to be tailored and personalised.

Brett Hill, distribution director, comments: “Pre-conceived ideas must be cast aside when it comes to engaging the workforce with employee benefits and how they’re communicated. Individuals lead increasingly diverse lifestyles, and making assumptions can mean that benefits aren’t taken up, and an opportunity to engage employees can be lost. Rather than supporting the business, this can be detrimental. Worse-case scenario - talent may look elsewhere to feel understood and valued.

“It’s important that businesses get to know the needs of their particular workforce. There’s a lot for businesses to gain in conducting research into what staff want from the workplace, and which benefits are more likely to meet their needs. Communications must also be tailored to aid engagement, but it can be a wasted exercise if the wrong assumptions are made. Understanding a workforce is crucial in understanding what benefits to offer. Increased knowledge of demographics is a good starting point, but it’s just the beginning.”

* http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/02/millennials-stand-out-for-their-technology-use-but-older-generations-also-embrace-digital-life/

** https://www.forbes.com/sites/gregpetro/2018/08/19/more-debt-less-stuff-the-millennial-spending-dilemma/#4f24a451314d