No two generations in history have ever been the same and it’s likely they never will, considering the fact that each generation is shaped by the events of their time. Each has distinct characteristics and traits, as well as different styles for communicating.
Imagine the challenges of a multi-generational workforce, where a kaleidoscope of employees — all with different values, goals and points of view — comprise the company workforce.
Up until now, employers never really had to contemplate the scenario because it wasn’t the norm. In fact, it rarely happened at all. Today, particularly with people working well into their 70s and even into their 80s, more and more companies are experiencing not just one or two generation gaps among a workforce, but five.
With a possible 50-year span between the oldest and youngest employees, who may be working together on the same project or reporting to the same manager, it’s inevitable for those distinct characteristics and traits to come into play and create new challenges for the HR professionals charged with providing incentives, rewards and enticing benefits packages to both attract and retain valued employees.
Cam Marston, who is considered the leading expert on the impact of generational change and its impact on the marketplace, has a clear understanding of how generational demographics are changing the landscape of business.
In his book, Generational Selling Tactics That Work (2011), he analyzes the major generations of our time — matures (born before 1946), baby boomers, (born 1946-64), generation X (born 1965-79), and millennials (born 1980-2000) — and demonstrates how understanding generational differences such as the benefits they value most and the ways in which they want to be engaged will have a positive impact not only on sales and marketing, but also management, motivation, and perhaps more importantly, recruiting and retention.
1. The real value of tailored benefits packages
Marston is not alone. Barclays recently commissioned a study that delved into the financial goals, concerns, and priorities of today’s workforce in order to provide HR professionals with new information and tools to help them rethink the employee benefits structure.
The study reports that six out of ten employees rate a comprehensive benefits package at the top of their list when looking for a new job, yet 85 percent felt that their current employee benefits packages failed to provide the support and flexibility required to meet present and future financial needs.
One thing is certain: Generation plays a vital role in how today’s organizations are strategizing employee engagement and restructuring benefits programs in order to achieve business goals.
Financial wellness is a particularly hot topic for post-recession employers in the U.S., who are realizing that a greater expertise from HR professionals is required in order to navigate today’s complex benefits environment where new health care regulations imposed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and rising costs of coverage beg the question of how to spend valuable benefits dollars.
In a new 2015 Workplace Benefits Report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which focuses on trends and perceptions among larger firms, findings indicate that human resources professionals are spending more time on health care issues than ever before, with 74 percent feeling under-qualified when it comes to issues regarding employee health care and retirement benefits simply because each generation values benefits differently.
For example, among the HR professionals surveyed, 68 percent believe that baby boomers value financial wellness more than any other generation, yet only one in five large firms indicated they utilize targeted communication for specific generations.
2. Closing the generation gaps
Amanda Emery, a marketing expert with Trustmark Voluntary Benefit Solutions, understands how critical it is for employers to identify what is important to each generation in order to meet their needs.
However, just because people fall into a certain generation does not mean they like to learn in the same way as others within their generation. It’s just as important or even more important to understand how people would like to be communicated to prior to an enrollment.
Surveys, she says, are one of the best ways to close the gaps and glean more information about how individuals prefer to be engaged. They also provide a roadmap for tailoring targeted messages, whether addressing them face-to-face, or via e-mail and text. Above all, it is most valuable to use a multi-channeled approach to stay accessible to all employees.
Millennials, in particular, don’t think about the big picture with retirement and benefits, nor do they typically have savings stored up like many of the older members of the workforce. Boomers and matures, on the other hand, have more need for comprehensive coverage. They’re also leaving the workforce with more debt.
To address such a broad spectrum of needs and concerns, many companies are trying to get as personal and relevant as possible in order to reach people where they are rather than from where employers think they may be. Passive enrollment, which has been the status quo, will no longer suffice because it lacks the educational component people need in order to understand what is at stake and how it will impact their lives.
It is essential for the overall wellbeing of the entire organization to communicate the implications of moving to a high deductible health plan. As ACA now requires all U.S. citizens to be insured by a minimum value medical plan, those employees that waive their employer sponsored benefits, must be educated to ensure they are enrolling in qualified coverage elsewhere; a parent, spouse or exchange option, to avoid a financial penalty.
3. Learning styles
Key considerations when designing a marketing and messaging campaign include more than just generational differences, Emery says. Learning style, point of view, and communication preference are equally important.
Teachers know better than most that, regardless of generation, everyone has a different learning style, and working hard to craft lessons that resonate throughout the classroom results in greater success for the whole. The same can be true when it comes to designing communication around healthcare or voluntary benefits.
The Macrothink Institute, which provides a wide range of scientific research, suggests that people learn primarily through one of three distinct means: visual (30 percent), auditory (25 percent), and kinesthetic (15 percent), with some 30 percent learning through a mixture of these.
Visual learners retain information best when it is presented through infographics, animation or “explainer videos,” which can increase learning by 15 percent. Auditory learners are exactly that: Good listeners who retain information by listening to podcasts, audio books, seminars, and lectures.
To optimize engagement of a targeted message and the information presented, verbal repetition is key. Kinesthetic, or tactile, learners are by far the most adaptable. They do well when information is presented in a variety of ways, including videos, animations, quizzes, surveys, games, slide shares and downloadable worksheets.
Most people, however, possess some visual learning skills, as the brain processes images much fast than text. So this is an easy way to effectively incorporate subject matter or key takeaways.
4. Targeting messages
Emery also mentions that beyond learning styles, it is also important to find common ground and speak to a person’s point of reference. What are their life experiences? Do they have small or grown children? What world events have shaped their lives? Education levels also play a significant role in marketing to a multi-generational client base, as does an individual’s cultural environment, whether rural, urban, affluent, or working class.
Millennials’ distinct attitudes toward benefits and strong preferences for communicating with their employers are undoubtedly a result of being raised on technology and coming of age during one of the country’s worst financial crises.
In fact, the Workplace Benefits Report states that of the employers that employ millennials, more than half (60 percent) believe millennials value health benefits more than other generations, but they are much more likely to have targeted financial-wellness communications for gen X-ers (43 percent) or baby boomers (91 percent) than millennials (7 percent).
Why? Because benefits budgets are limited.
Even with the shift to a multigenerational workforce, employee benefits will likely carry a similar structure, but with an emphasis on options. Experts agree that optimal engagement is no longer possible without understanding the age demographics of its employees.
Marketing to a multi-generational workforce with a thoughtful and targeted approach has the potential to not only increase engagement but also give an organization the competitive advantage it needs to stay ahead in today’s global market.