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2004 CCH Unscheduled Absense Survey

2004 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey

Benefits and Balance in a Four-Generation Workplace

Adapted from the CCH book HR How-to: Intergenerational Issues, by Linda A. Panszczyk, J.D., CEBS.  © CCH 2004.

For the first time ever, there are four generations of people currently in the workplace, and each has its own view of work and work-life benefits. Those valued by one generation may not be of interest to another based on their life stage, and some employees — often termed the “sandwich generation” — are facing issues around caring both for their children and an aging relative.  

With quality of work-life programs impacting everything from company morale to unscheduled absences and other time away from work — as well as recruitment and retention — companies need to take a closer look at their employees and make sure the programs they adopt support the needs of their workforce. 

There are four generations in the workforce today:

  • Traditionalists – employees who were born before 1946 and now number about 27 million people
  • Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 and now number about 76 million people
  • Gen Xers – employees born between 1965 and 1980 and now number about 60 million people
  • Millennials, sometimes called Gen Yers or Generation Next – those born between 1981 and 1999, are about 74 million strong, and just starting to enter the workforce

For all employee groups, employee benefits rank as a top factor in job satisfaction. However, each generation has its own view of what kind of benefit constitutes a reward to them.

Benefits should offer choice and flexibility and be personalized to appeal to different generations.  This doesn’t mean organizations need to offer completely different benefits packages for each generation.  However, they should assess how the generations differ in their views of benefits and be willing to apply rewards in ways that will satisfy and motivate each generation.  For example, time off and job flexibility are key benefits for members of each generation.  Other benefits, such as health insurance, typically are widely valued, but the specific health plan features that members of each generation look for vary quite substantially.

Organizations also need to recognize even the greatest benefits programs are only great when they clearly communicate what is offered and explain how employees can receive these benefits. For example, employees from older generations, such as Traditionalists and Baby Boomers, may have been with an organization so long they don’t know what benefits are currently offered.

Additionally, many organizations have flexible work-related policies, but employees either aren’t aware of them or are afraid to use them.  As a result, employers can’t just offer flexible work/life polices, but must encourage employees to use them.

Generational clash over work/life balance

With four different generations in the workplace and each having its own views, work/life balance issues sometimes breed resentment. 

For example, a dedicated Traditionalist might resent the younger generations’ demands for work/life balance and wonder how all the work will get done if everyone else is taking off to deal with personal issues.

Baby Boomers might resent the younger generations’ demands for work/life balance simply by the fact that the younger employees had the guts to ask for accommodations they themselves might never have dreamed of asking for. Theirs was a more competitive workplace where asking to balance work and life might have been perceived as a sign of weakness or a threat to getting ahead.

A Gen Xer might not understand why the older generations can’t work hard and play hard at the same time. They don’t want balance late in life when they retire — they want it now. An organization with traditional kinds of attitudes towards work/life issues could very well be one that Xers don’t want to stay with.

Sandwich generation employee work/life issues

The number of employees currently caught in the sandwich generation is estimated at  eight percent and growing.  These employees, primarily Baby Boomers, find themselves in the dual role of being caregivers to their children and to a disabled spouse or aging parents. Resources and referral offerings for eldercare/childcare or respite care are especially valuable to these employees in helping them manage their caregiving responsibilities. 

While many employees in these circumstances feel caretaking is the equivalent of a second full-time job, few employers are offering dual caregiving benefits.  However, employers sustain “hidden” costs in productivity related to their employees’ caregiving responsibilities (e.g., higher unscheduled absences, turnover, etc.).  As a result, they increasingly may be motivated to help employees better manage their work/life situations.  For example, intergenerational or cross-generational care — where both eldercare and childcare are offered at a shared site — is not yet widespread but could become so as the number of simultaneous caregivers increases.

Even those employees caring just for aging parents face significant challenges.  In fact, according to a Society for Human Resource Management study, 47 percent of HR professionals reported seeing an increase in the number of employees dealing with eldercare issues over the last several years.  While childcare benefits are often a focus of benefit programs, eldercare programs have not earned the same attention.  It’s no wonder eldercare challenges are now being labeled the “silent productivity killer.” Eldercare programs include such things as flex-time to allow employees to deal with a parent’s medical appointments or other eldercare issues, referral services, long-term care options, respite care, etc.

Avoiding stereotypes

Considering generational factors is important, but employers need to avoid stereotyping based solely on age and generation.  For example, while Baby Boomers are most often considered the sandwich generation, it’s also possible that a Gen Xer or a Traditionalist employee to be in a similar position. A Traditionalist may also care for an aging spouse at the same time he or she needs to care for grandchildren.  And, there are “Cuspers” to consider — employees who are on the cusp of one generation, or another, whose needs may span both.

The key to success for employers is that they regularly check the pulse of their organization to see how employee needs are changing, and then make the necessary changes to benefits programs to ensure those needs are met in an effective, and cost-efficient way.

    For information about the 2004 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey or to speak with a CCH workplace expert, please contact
Leslie Bonacum

Neil Allen

   © 2019, CCH INCORPORATED. All rights reserved.   

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