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The dangers of demographic generalisations

19th Jun 2019
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Demographic generalisations continue to make headlines, as another trait of a particular age group is “exposed” for readers to feast on and debate. While having groupings such as “Millennials” and “Baby Boomers” can be useful in the workplace - as a starting point to understand the potential values and motivators of employees according to age, businesses are at risk of relying on them to heavily and thus alienating swathes of workers based on assumptions.

Three of the most common age-based assumptions that employers can make, that we find can frustrate employees are:

Technology is for the young

Whilst Millennials (those born 1981-1995) still hold the crown for adoption of technology, the gap is rapidly closing with Gen Xers (born 1965 - 1980) and Baby Boomers (born 1947 - 1964). Yet employers can fall foul when implementing new technology by solely aiming it at Millennials and younger – potentially alienating the older workforce from digital benefits and communications.

In fact, more Gen Xers have tablets than Millennials (64% to 54% respectively) and the gap of those owning a Facebook account has closed to 76% and 82% respectively. A technologically savvy employee benefits platform, that links with digital health tracking watches and social media accounts for example, can therefore fall flat if communications are primarily targeted at younger employees – missing a great opportunity to engage the older workforce too.

Finances only interest older workers

Business can assume that employees in the final decade of their career may be more interested in their finances than others; trying to put everything in order to fund retirement. This can often result in communications about financial benefits, such as group life assurance, income protection and retirement planning, being aimed at older employees. Such targeting can serve to frustrate the likes of Millennials, who arguably have a greater need for financial planning and advice – being the generation to have university fees trebled and dreams of owning a home thwarted. However, assumptions about Millennial lifestyles – for example, preferring to spend wages on experiences rather than saving for the future – can mean that communications around financial benefits aren’t targeted at them. When in practice it could be a benefit they would value highly.

Wellbeing benefits for the older generations

As health can deteriorate the older we get, and associated pressures can take its toll on mental health, there may be a temptation to target wellbeing benefits at older generations. Private medical insurance (PMI) for example, can be assumed to be of greater interest to older staff members, as their chances of experiencing a health concern increase with age. However, with cancer survival rates improving, we can see that the healthcare system and individuals are moving towards a more preventative mindset as a means of tackling major illnesses and prolonging life in terms of longevity and quality. This means that keeping on top of health - through a good diet, regular exercise and health screenings – is important for all ages. Therefore, benefits that help employees to achieve positive mental and physical wellbeing are desirable for all – and shouldn’t be aimed at older workers only.

The most crucial point throughout is to remember that communications around benefits should not be based on assumptions, age or otherwise, but tailored and personalised where possible. Whilst demographics around generations still hold value, with regards to providing a starting point for benefits and communications, the ultimate goal should be to gain a thorough understanding of the workforce for targeting to be more effective. The risk of not doing so, can result in talent going to a competitor that has taken the time to understand them.

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