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Managing Millennials While Supporting All Generations

Like previous generations before them, Millenenials in today's workforce have their own set of unique challenges and needs that employers must address. Here's why mental health should at the top of the list.

Younger generations coming into the workforce are suffering more from mental health issues than their older counterparts. In a nationally representative US poll conducted by Quartz magazine in December 2018, 18 percent of respondents said they are experiencing anxiety or depression to the point where it disrupts their work. The rate was nearly twice as high (30 percent) among Millennial and Gen Z employees (aged 18-34.)

There are some new pressures affecting younger employees, the likes of which have never been seen before, such as social media, as well as financial pressures around housing. When it comes to HR’s role in supporting this demographic effectively however, the key is to get the balance right between tailoring support for all demographics and not generalizing, stereotyping, or neglecting other age groups who might be struggling in different ways, and potentially less visibly.

The workforce today is made up of four generations of employees—Matures (born before 1946), Boomers (born between 1946 and1964), Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), and Gen Yers or Millennials, (born between 1981 and 2000). With these generations come some differences in learning styles and a variety of differences in knowledge, perspective, and expertise. But it’s essential to encourage employees of all generations to be proactive about finding opportunities to learn and stay fresh, focused, and motivated. 

It’s important to remember that everyone, regardless of age, has a different learning style and technology, to some degree, will impact this. Older generations have had technology thrust upon them, while Millennials have grown up with smartphones and social media. In addition, some people may prefer to “learn by doing,” while others may prefer to read books or listen to experts’ presentations or attend seminars. So it’s important to realize that individuals differ in their learning styles and that those differences have nothing to do with age.

It’s claimed that Millennials feel the pressures of work stress far more than their older counterparts and while there are statistics to support this, we must also consider that Millennials are also more open and honest about mental health, whereas older generations still suffer from some residual stigma.

In LifeWorks’ own annual research on Employee Assistance Program (EAP) users we consistently find that the two youngest age groups (younger than thirty and thirty – thirty nine) account for about two-thirds of all of the users of EAP services (statistics from 2018). We also find that Mental Health & Stress are this most common reason to engage with an EAP, at forty one percent.

But there is real world evidence among our customer base that Millennials are raising awareness of mental health and as a result there is a higher proportion of people in this age group talking about it candidly.

Dr. Martens, one of our global customers, has internal teams known as the “Culture Vultures” and “Rebel Souls” that are also responsible for driving the well-being agenda at Dr. Martens, including a focus on mental health. Dr. Martens has become one of a number of organizations that has created mental health first responders to support the mental wellness of employees in much the same way traditional first responders do physically.  

“We have a lot of millennials in the organization and I think they’re the people that talk about it much more. They’re much better at sharing when it comes to mental health. I think some of us slightly older ones don’t talk about it as much as perhaps we should. So, I think it’s been great to see that mental health isn’t a taboo subject in this organization and I think a lot of that has come from the millennials – they’ve done a great job of raising the profile,” said Helen Verwoert, Global HR Director at Dr. Martens.

It’s true that Millennials also face some unique pressures. Today, many adults take care of both their children and their parents. These adults are known as “the sandwich generation,” because their needs often become caught, or sandwiched, between those of the older and younger generation. Members of the sandwich generation are typically between 35 and 60 years old. They frequently struggle to meet the many needs of their children and aging parents at a time when they are also busy working and planning their own futures. Many of those people say that they provide financial assistance, emotional help, and practical assistance with daily activities. 

Because there are currently more Millennials in the workforce than there are Baby Boomers, they have many age peers to compete with in the workplace. Like all younger workers, they want as many training and growth opportunities as possible. Research suggests that Millennials (like the other generations) want to work for organizations that respect individual differences, promote work-life balance, pay well, and are socially responsible. 

But this can make the workplace challenging. Matures, who have established many of the norms in companies, may prefer the status quo because it’s worked so well in the past. Baby Boomers, who have had to compete for everything they’ve accomplished, may not want to hand over projects that give them power and influence. Gen Xers, who have proven their ability to handle large assignments, may not want to pass on those assignments to others. Millennials, who are still working to prove themselves, may not want to give up the very leadership that will showcase what they know. On the other hand, in general, people in positions of authority have too much to do. In this case there’s much to be said about sharing experience and responsibilities across generations. Sharing responsibility can bring a whole new perspective to the project and build trust with co-workers.

Supporting each generation and their specific needs can be a huge time constraint for management and bringing in an EAP allows employers to assist individuals across all levels. But as mentioned above, each generation requires different levels of support and employers can pick and choose which elements will assist their entire workforce. Whether that includes on-site counseling for Matures, or gamified apps to boost engagement by Millenials. Age gaps in the workplace is not a new concept, but there are now an abundance of tools and options available to employers to properly support each generation.

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