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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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