Communicating benefits to a multigenerational workforce

Communicating the benefits effectively to each generation can pay dividends and achieve the desired employee engagement and retention, John Sylvester says

As 37 per cent of workers plan to leave their current jobs in 2015 – a dramatic increase from 2014 (19 per cent) and 2013 (13 per cent)1, recognising and rewarding people effectively is top of the agenda for HR professionals. Retaining skilled staff in a workforce that may comprise people from four generations is critical. To meet the challenge of motivating employees in every generation it is essential not only to deploy the right mix of benefits, recognition and reward to each group but also to ensure these benefits are communicated to each generation in a way they understand.

Here are some tips consider:

  1. Understand your workforce mix: Get a clear understanding of the generations that make up the workforce. Only then is it possible to design a rewards, recognition and benefits offer that appeals to the different generations. Some workplaces may contain all four generations – Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Generation Y (1980-1994) and Millennials (born since 1995). Some businesses have a large number of older employees, perhaps trained operatives who have spent their working life building skills at the organisation. Newer, digital enterprises may comprise mainly Gen Y and Millennials.

Armed with the knowledge of your audience demographic you will be better equipped to decide of the specific rewards that are likely to be of interest and how to communicate them more effectively.  For example, younger generations – Generation Y and Millennials– have been brought up to have an unshakeable belief that their voice should be heard. They tend to be less motivated by monetary reward than the older Gen X and Baby Boomers and respond to well-communicated recognition – a thank you in front of senior executives has a great motivational impact for Gen Y.

  1. Keep it relevant: How the organisation communicates benefits to each group of employees can have a massive impact on employee awareness and uptake of the benefits. There is little point in designing a great rewards and recognition scheme if half your employees miss the email about it. Gen Xers may respond well to communications about benefits via email as long as it is made easy for them to pick up the phone or schedule an in-person meeting to provide further clarification as needed. The older Baby Boomers varies enormously in their adoption of newer communications technologies. While most of them will respond to work emails, where email is a regular and accepted form of communication in the enterprise, and many of them use social media, not all of this generation is technologically savvy.  It may be necessary to support communication of benefits to this group by personal communication methods from one to one chats with managers to presentations of benefits to groups of employees.


  1. Communicate using the right vehicle: Decide how to communicate these benefits to each generation – from email to IM, SMS to social media. Generation Y and Millennials are most likely to miss an email telling them about company benefits. To communicate with Gen Y individuals about their benefits, HR must be prepared to communicate with them via social media, texting and instant messaging. Social media and instant messaging also appeal to the Millennials who expect information on benefits to be available at a time that is convenient to them, not announced once a year during a limited registration window. This generation is most likely to be receptive to a mobile app that will keep them up-to-date with benefits.


  1. Use the right language: Finding the right mechanism to communicate with employees of different generations, from text to email, is important. It is equally vital to use appropriate language for each group. Baby Boomers are used to formal workplace communications and although they may respond to slightly more informal and clearer communications these days, it is important not to take this too far and use slang or overly casual language with this audience. Younger Gen X and older Gen Y tend to make up the bulk of the managerial level in a workplace so with time pressure at work combined with growing families at home, it is important to keep messages for them concise.Getting the language right for all generations is key but it is particularly important with Gen Y and the youngest Millennials. Enlist the help of employees from each generation to design communications using language that is current for that generation and will appeal to them. Relying on Gen X HR people to come up with the language of the Millennials is likely to lead to an “epic fail”. Don’t be afraid to use (Millennial-approved) humour or visual media to attract the attention of these digital natives who are the biggest users of image-based social media from Instagram to Vine.


  1. Keep the comms two-way: It is important to keep in mind that communication should be two-way and design a feedback loop. Address this by providing checkboxes within communications so people can refine benefits communications aimed at them to include what they are interested in.


  1. Be smart about the type of rewards: Many companies send out the same rewards and benefits email to all their staff, resulting in some cases in offering benefits that may be unsuitable or even offend. 65 year olds may not have much need for childcare vouchers, for example, or invitations to benefit from the Bike to Work scheme may be inappropriate for someone registered disabled or a remote worker.

Too often, organisations implement a rewards and recognition programme and then fail to reap the projected benefits from it. Communicating the benefits effectively to each generation can pay dividends and achieve the desired employee engagement and retention.


1 Institute of Leadership & Management survey


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