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Is Your Employee Wellness Program Ready For Generation Z?

from Alan Kohll, Contributor to

It’s graduation season, and that means millions of young adults—the leading edge of Generation Z—are graduating from colleges, and beginning their career. With this new wave of workers entering the workforce, HR leaders need to be prepared.

Generation Z, also known as Post-Millennials and the Homeland Generation, will surpass Millennials in 2019 as the most populous generation, comprising roughly 32% of the population. According to Pew Research Center, generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science, but they believe 1996 is a meaningful cutoff between Millennials and Generation Z for several reasons, including key political, economic and social factors that define the Millennial generation’s formative years.

Although there are some similarities, Generation Z and Millennials hold some distinct differences. Some differences between the two are:

Living in a Digital World. In 1995, only 14% of U.S. adults had access to the internet and 42% of U.S. adults had never heard of the internet. Generation Z has never known a non-digital world. They grew up during the most accelerated and game-changing periods of technological advancements in human history.

Entrepreneurial. With the entrepreneurial spirit of a Millennial, but with a tad more caution and forethought, Generation Z is expected to do things by their own rules. An infographic from the Online Schools Center shows that 41% of Generation Z plans to start their own businesses and 45% say they will invent something world-changing.

Practical with Money. Generation Z will make up 40% of consumers by 2020 and their attitude toward finances is unlike any generation before. According to an infographic from Rave Reviews, 89% of Generation Z says that planning for their financial future makes them feel empowered. 64% have already started researching on their own or talking to others about financial planning. And the most noteworthy stat to me is the average age that Generation Z has started researching financial planning is 13!

Socially Conscious. A recent study by cultural forecasting firm Sparks and Honey found that 26% of 16-19-year-olds already volunteer on a regular basis. They want to make a difference in the world and 76% are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet.

Stress Levels. A 2018 study from the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that national issues, such as sexual harassment, immigration and gun violence, are significant stressors for Generation Z. They are the most likely of all generations to report poor mental health – with 27% reporting their mental health as fair or poor. Despite the high percentages of Generation Z feeling stress from different causes, only half feel they do enough to manage their stress.

Diversity. The youngest generation in the U.S. is entering adulthood as the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation. Pew Research Center found that nearly 48% of Generation Z are from communities of color.

With Generation Z taking on the world soon, it is important for employers to understand how to recruit and retain them. This generation is looking for a rewarding and meaningful workplace culture. And one factor they take into account when choosing a place to work is a company's wellness program. Generation Z has taken a holistic view of health, emphasizing physical fitness, healthy eating, and mental well-being. In addition to healthcare benefits, an employer-provided wellness program is a high interest to Generation Z, with about 54% indicating that a company-supported wellness program is important or extremely important.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas that will help you score major points with Generation Z and ultimately a more successful wellness program:

Focus on Finances

Despite their young age, Generation Z is already experiencing financial burden as they enter the workplace. Like previous generations, Generation Z has worries centered around both short-term and long-term financial wellness. Four out of five Generation Z consumers ages 18-21 say money matters are a leading source of stress and more than three in ten respondents say personal debt is another major source of stress.

Financial wellness programs can help employees take action and reduce financial worries. Think about including workshops, coaching/counseling services, retirement planning, student debt assistance and digital financial tools (for example budgeting and tracking spending) as part of your overall wellness strategy. Remember that since finances are a sensitive subject, it's best to use an unbiased financial education company.

Give Back

The most successful wellness program address all aspects of well-being – not just physical health. Volunteering can instill a sense of purpose and meaning in employees – and create more positive attitudes towards the company.

According to the 2017 Deloitte Volunteerism Survey, nearly 9 out of 10 (89%) working Americans believe that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those that do not. 77% of respondents also said, “company-sponsored volunteer activities are essential to employee well-being.”

Promote any volunteer activities that are currently happening in your community, offer matching gift programs and give employees PTO or flexible scheduling to attend. You can also allow employees to earn wellness points for volunteer activities.

Reduce Stress

More than nine in 10 Gen Z adults said they have experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom because of stress, such as feeling depressed or sad (58%) or lacking interest, motivation or energy (55%).

Employers can help Generation Z by creating a culture of wellness that helps employees live their healthiest and happiest lives. A strong culture of wellness will promote healthy habits in the workplace – like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and maintaining a balanced diet. All of these factors help reduce the stress in employees’ lives. An authentic culture of wellness will also offer a flexible environment. Encourage employees to take advantage of flex hours, remote working, and mental health days when they are feeling overly stressed and need a break.

Go Green

The environment is one of Generation Z's top causes. Wellness and green programs are naturally connected. From the air we breathe to the food and water we consume; the environment impacts our well-being and quality of life.

If you don’t currently have any initiatives in place for an eco-friendly office, now is the perfect time to get started. Consider shifting to a paperless environment, replacing standard or incandescent light bulbs, promoting Meatless Mondays and providing access to green space. A company garden is also a fun way to get employees outside and help them relieve some stress.

Workplaces around the world will soon experience a demographic shift with the first wave of Generation Z joining the global workforce alongside Millennials, Generation X, and the last of the Baby Boomers. Generation Z is expected to bring their own distinct skills, habits, and needs to the workplace. Employers will need to adapt their culture and benefits to recruit top talent. If you start changing now, you'll have a competitive edge with the newest young professionals

Alan KohllContributor

I have been working in the corporate wellness space for over 20 years. I am the founder and president of TotalWellness, a national corporate health and wellness services provider. Throughout my years at TotalWellness, I’ve developed a true passion for and expertise in all things health related. I believe the journey towards a healthy lifestyle is one everybody can take. I hope to share my passion with Forbes readers by writing about corporate wellness strategies, the importance of employee health and well-being, and the impact health trends have on the workplace. I’ve extended my passion for wellness into the fitness field as a Certified Race Director and Coach with USA Triathlon, and as the founder of Race Omaha, a nonprofit triathlon series in Omaha, Nebraska.

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