How leaders can help employees of multiple generations reduce stressors and improve the company culture, writes David Gregg, M.D., StayWell Chief Medical Officer.
Stress is a given component of modern life and affects nearly everyone at some point or another. But understanding the factors that drive stress and its impact on individuals is the key to managing stress. This issue has become increasingly important for employers with multiple generations now part of the workforce. But not every generation shares the same burden of stress nor do they find the same issues to be drivers of stress — creating new challenges in managing the health and productivity of a multi-generational employee base.
The impact of stress
Stress is typically a physical, mental, or behavioral reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. Stress is a normal part of life, and it can stem from changes in an environment, a situation, or even outside factors that contribute to negative thoughts. In work settings, this can be a new role, a new manager, or a new environment. Items such as deadlines, risks, and failure can all be stress-inducing. While many people can experience and react to stress when a person faces continuous challenges without relief it can lead to a negative response that causes wear and tear on the body — both physical and emotional.
For many years, employers took a more passive role in helping to reduce employee stress; but as more research shows the value of a holistic approach to health, stress management at the workplace has become an important topic. By creating a workplace that doesn’t contribute to unhealthy levels of stress and helping employees reduce outside stress factors, employers can anticipate improved productivity, reduced health care costs, and more engaged culture.
Today’s workforce is comprised of five different generations potentially all working under one roof. This includes:
Pre-Boomers (Born 1925-1945)
Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)
Generation X (Born 1965-1976)
Millennials (Born 1977-1994)
Gen Z (Born after 1994)
And while generational diversity has the potential to generate new perspectives, it also comes with the potential for conflict and stress due to differing values and working styles. Members of each generation have their own stress, as each group is likely in different stages of life and has varied experiences that contribute to their world view. And as more people delay their retirement, younger generations can feel that their opportunities for career advancement are being restricted. Meanwhile, older generations may feel hesitant to adopt new processes or take longer to utilize new technology as part of their role.
A multi-generational workforce can create new challenges as managers must be sensitive to how different generations approach the workplace. This can include changes in communication styles, training methods, and increased transparency. To help limit unnecessary employee stress, managers should rethink hiring practices, managing styles, rewards, training, and retention of their employees, and how each generation may respond. It’s important to help employees recognize that they each have distinct sets of skills and different things they bring to the table.
Generational attitudes toward stress
A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that more than nine in 10 Gen Z adults said they have experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom because of stress. In fact, this generation is the most stressed among all those in the workforce. But stress is not unique to just Gen Z.
Overall, adults across generations believe that their stress levels have increased (44 percent) rather than declined (27 percent) over the past 5 years. 88% of millennials suffer workplace stress and 1 in 10 say they are very stressed about the future of their career. Older generations also experience stress, citing money and work as primary drivers. Regardless of the generation, stress is constant and tends to shift according to the stages of life for each individual.
How companies are helping to reduce stress
While adults of all generations struggle with stress, each generation has its own approach to managing stress. Employers can begin to tackle some of the stress elements by helping employees understand their role in the organization.
As more employees feel empowered, they develop a stronger, personal investment in their role. Managers should also help to understand and cultivate employee passions. Whether part of Gen Z or boomers, employees may have new interests they wish to explore as part of their career journey. By providing a creative outlet to learn more, and try new approaches, employees feel renewed and fulfilled in their roles.
With Gen Z taking on the world soon, it is important for employers to understand the role of workplace culture. Younger generations take a more holistic view of health and expect their employers to do the same. This includes emphasizing physical fitness, healthy eating, and mental well-being. And 54% indicate that a company-supported wellness program is important or extremely important
At StayWell, we work with major employers to create health engagement programs that address lifestyle risks like stress, weight, and sleep before they become costly health concerns – all elements that contribute to stress. A strong culture of well-being leads to healthy habits in the workplace and helps reduce the stress in employees’ lives. For employers, this means a healthier, happier workforce, with increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and greater engagement among employees.
The ROI of stress reduction
Helping to reduce stress across all generations isn’t just good for employee health, it also proves to be good business. A study by PriceWaterhouse Coopers found that stress management delivers a return of 2.3 to 1 for every employee. And The Lancet found that healthy employees are three times more productive than unhealthy employees
As noted previously, stress is an issue that plagues employees across all generations and can have a negative impact on employers. Creating an environment that helps to reduce employee stress—along with providing the tools to help employees cope with stressors and supporting employees in their roles—can help to cultivate healthy company culture. For employers, the goal isn’t to eliminate all stress, but rather to reduce the impact that employee stress has on overall productivity. Cultivating positive, engaging cultures now will help to sustain employees of all ages and recruit top talent in the years to come.