Younger workers have different priorities when it comes to benefits, report finds

The needs and priorities that employees look for in a health-care package vary greatly based on which generation they belong to and have changed significantly over the years, according to a recent study. 

The study, conducted by Canadian insurance company Medavie Blue Cross, found that the modern workplace employs generation Z, millennials, generation X, baby boomers and some traditionalists (born between 1928 and 1945), meaning age gaps of more than 50 years. 

“Today’s workforce is one of the most multi-generational on record,” said Shane Reid, director of drug, product and provider management at Medavie Blue Cross. “It’s great for diversity but poses a unique challenge to appeal to the varying needs of those generations.”

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While gen-Z employees, the most recent age group to enter the full-time workforce, listed ADD/ADHD medication, contraceptives and antidepressants among their top five drug benefits, boomers and traditionalists typically seek drugs for cardiac health and diabetes.

Mental health supports are among the top utilized benefits for younger employees but weren’t even listed by boomers or traditionalists, the report found. Bridging the gap, generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, want mental health care but also require access to drugs for diabetes.

Employers will have to be proactive to ensure employees can have access to different types of care,” Reid said. “And it really speaks to the importance of accessibility and inclusivity.”

Beyond the desire to keep employees happy is the need to avoid workplace conflict, a unique aspect of a multi-generational workforce, said Ottawa human resources expert Helen Ofosu.

Increased diversity creates “more opportunity for conflict” in the workplace, said Ofosu, an issue that is amplified when employees are not at their best — particularly in terms of mental health.

“My suspicion is that the traditionalists and boomers are more accustomed to toughing things out. Things could be hard, but they white-knuckle it,” Ofosu explained. “But millennials and gen-Zers were raised another way. When you’re allowed to talk about your feelings, process them, and encouraged to work on your mental health, it is a very different way of interacting.”

Ofosu, author of “How to be Resilient in Your Career: Facing Up to Barriers at Work,” said the “workplace now is more complicated and more difficult” than she has ever experienced due to the unique combination of multiple generations, remote work, diversity and inclusion and quickly evolving technology.

She said it “makes sense” to invest in the wellness of all employees, regardless of their generation, particularly when it comes to mental health.

“You’ll have people who, if they can’t afford it, they’ll try to tough it out. They’re going to be at work, maybe demonstrating presenteeism, they’re there and present but not engaged and can’t contribute what they normally would,” she said. Then there’s regular absenteeism, she added, which can end up costing companies both in money and productivity.

“It might actually be cheaper to give people access to flexible benefits than have them skip or be in office but not as productive as they could be,” Ofosu said. “I’m sure that goes along with ADD or ADHD as well; if someone has medical support and strategies, it allows them to be more productive.”

Thanks to better health care, increased remote options and flexibility in the workplace, Ofosu said older generations can more comfortably work far longer than they used to.

According to Reid, a multi-generational workplace will be the norm “for the foreseeable future.” 

“Employers can consider offering personal protection and the ability for generations to plan for the long term and employers can encourage the advantage of digital care and streamlined ways for employees to access care,” he said. “With a curated digital health platform, there is greater flexibility with virtual health services and multiple options that different people may pick and choose.

“But the employer must engage in the conversations and understand the lived experiences of the various generations in the workplace.”

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