ADA: Motivating Diverse Generations to Participate in Health & Wellness

DMEC Staff@Work

Elizabeth StiversHeidi BrimroseBy Elizabeth W. Stivers, JD, Former AVP and Senior Counsel Employment Law, Unum and Heidi Bimrose, CRC, CEBS, Former Director, Health & Productivity Development, Unum

For the first time in history, we are seeing up to five different generations in the workplace with an age gap of up to 50 years. When designing benefit and wellness plans, employers must understand how the values, drivers, and needs of these generations differ in order to meet the challenge of employee engagement, which has an inverse relationship with absenteeism. It is essential that companies proactively address the difference in ages as they focus on managing employee health.

Such programs not only support employees in building positive health habits, but successful health and well-being programs also can positively affect an organization’s bottom line. According to a 2012 Gallup Q12 assessment,1 the top three drivers for implementing wellness plans for organizations are keeping healthcare costs in check, increasing employee engagement, and positively impacting the work culture.

Unum analyzed disability data from 2010-2013 to identify chronic conditions by generational groups (see Figure).

Baby Boomers have a higher prevalence of chronic conditions, many associated with being overweight and sedentary. Excess weight also puts extra wear and tear on the body’s muscles and joints, making it more difficult for Boomers to be active, creating a downward health cycle. Engaging this group regularly, such as through personalized email reminders or phone calls, can inspire them to embrace and build the habits to follow through with health and wellness plans.

Generation X, known for developing their independence early in life, grew up on the era of new conveniences such as microwaving and processed foods, and as a result, they are more prone to obesity, putting them at a higher risk for diabetes. Gen X is just coming to the age where chronic health concerns present. However, many serious diseases, such as diabetes, begin with almost no visible symptoms, meaning this age group may have a false sense of health. This generation wants to be educated and informed about its health and solutions and is more likely to commit to things that include reminders, feedback on progress, and recognition for accomplishments.

Millennials/Generation Ys put a lower priority on medical care than other generations; stress and obesity are this group’s two biggest health problems. They grew up in a society with constant information and quick solutions and can get frustrated when there is no “quick fix” such as with weight loss.2 When it comes to program communication and participation, Gen Ys are significantly more likely to prefer mobile apps, text, or popular social channels to make it easy and convenient, and add a level of competition.

By understanding the generational differences and customizing the dissemination of program information to employees based on generational characteristics, employers can improve employee engagement in health and wellness programs.


Condition Boomer Gen X Gen Y
Arthropathy 12% 5% 2%
Back Pain 10% 10% 4%
Behavioral 5% 8% 6%
Cancer 11% 5% 1%
Circulatory 7% 3% 0%
Respiratory 2% 1% 0%


1. For details about the Gallup Q12 employee engagement assessment, visit
2. A Fragile Nation in Poor Health: Realities About Why So Many Americans Fail to Follow Their Doctor’s Orders & Strategies For Improving Patient Cooperation. (2011). Mobile, AL: Televox. Retrieved from

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