Mind the gap: How the generations view healthcare

Just as each generation has its own soundtrack and cultural references (cue “The Breakfast Club” or “The Big Chill”), every age group has a different view of what it means to stay “healthy.” What’s important for one generation in terms of well-being may not be as crucial for another.

In fact, our research and those of other organizations have found that age is one of the biggest influences on how employees prioritize their health. To optimize your employee engagement, your wellness programs need to account for generational differences. Access to reliable segmented data will help inform your decision-making so you can customize your incentives, benefits and communications strategy accordingly.

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What do we know about how different generations think about their health?

Millennials — The Selfie Generation: Highly attuned to personal lifestyle and curated online lives, millennials want to feel and look good. Being healthy for them doesn’t just mean “not sick” — it’s a daily, active pursuit. It’s not surprising the generation that has grown up with Uber, Amazon and Netflix is impatient when it comes to getting health services. They’re frustrated by long wait times and the hassle of scheduling appointments — so much so that 13% of them have gone straight to the ER because they couldn’t see a doctor (compared to 10% of Gen Xers and 6% of baby boomers), according to a study co-authored by GE Healthcare Camden Group and Prophet. Millennials think digitally, rely heavily on social networks for information and gravitate toward convenient, self-serve options for healthcare.

Gen X — The Sandwich Generation: Caught in the middle, Generation Xers are often looking after the health of their aging parents as well as their young children, not to mention struggling to eat better, exercise more and get more sleep. Because they are caught in the middle caring for their parents and kids, nearly three-quarters of Gen Xers identify themselves as the chief health decision makers in their families, according to a study by Greyhealth Group and Kantar Health. What Gen X wants from healthcare is more transparent, immediate and actionable communication, the researchers say.

Baby Boomers — The Rock ’n’ Roll Generation: Baby boomers want to live longer even as many are managing chronic ailments such as obesity and high blood pressure. For them, staying healthy means avoiding a health scare like cancer or a heart attack, and getting the most out of their lives. Data shows that boomers are less stressed than Gen Xers or millennials, and despite age-related diseases, they report feeling healthier compared to their younger counterparts. Unfortunately, the next generation of seniors may not be as well off. According to a study by the United Health Foundation, compared to the current senior population when they were middle-aged, the next wave of seniors smokes 50% less, yet has a 55% higher
prevalence of diabetes, a 25% higher prevalence of obesity and a 9% lower prevalence of very good or excellent health status.

What does all of this mean for benefits leaders?

It means that employee benefit administrators and advisers can’t expect to fully engage employees when designing and promoting wellness programs without accounting for key generational differences. Strategically and tactically, this nuanced approach will require segmenting your audience so the message is specifically tailored for each age group’s needs and goals.

One idea: Get to know your people. You may need to invest in list management tools, such as marketing automation software, or find a partner or agency that can take advantage of the available technology to complete this task. These tools can help create and maintain up-to-date lists of employees, segmented by age and interests, as well as optimize delivery across the channels that resonate most with each user group. This means social media versus texting versus e-mail newsletters).

While successful segmenting may require better technology, how you speak to the generations in your audience can be as simple as crafting e-mail subject lines designed to motivate each group differently.

While marketing incentive programs to lose weight, for example, an e-mail for millennials might say, “How to look great this summer.” Meanwhile, the subject line for the Gen X crowd might read, “Get the stamina you need to keep up with your kids.”

Modern health marketing requires a data-driven approach. What is the first rule of marketing? Know your audience. What is the first rule of modern marketing? Decisions involving your message, marketing materials and distribution channels should all be driven by your data, including data on the various generations of workers in your organizations.

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