Tailoring Mental Wellbeing Support For Every Generation In The Workplace

The four generations in the workplace today

For the first time in modern history there are seven generations of people alive, this is largely because we still have people from what is referred to as the ‘Greatest Generation’ who are currently alive. These are people born between 1901 and 1927.

We also have the Silent/Builder generation, they lived through the great depression and World War 2, they kept their head down and worked hard, they built a lot from very little, and they are self-made people. That’s my father’s generation – respectful, loyal, always thankful for everything they had, they were born between 1928 and 1945.

Then we have Baby Boomers, born between 1946 – 1964, so they are between 59 – 77 presently. Some are still in the work force. They are called Boomers because of the unprecedented spike in birthrates after World War 2. Over 76 million babies were born in 18 years after the soldiers came back from war, we know what was happening there. Boomers are independent, resourceful, and full of grit.

Gen Xers, born between 1965 – 1980 are 43 – 58 years old currently. Not only are they not a large population, but there also isn’t a popular scintillating story about the emergence of this generation, maybe there is. We are a result of a need to have less children, I dare call us the “birth control” generation.  I have the honor to be at the tail end of this generation according to some data sets. This is a generation that is generally seen as self-sufficient, the last to truly embrace and experience the outdoors fully, independent thinkers, responsible and the PC generation.

Onto Millennials, they are born between 1981 – 1996. They are between 27 and 42 today. They’re called millennials because the oldest members of this generation were coming into adulthood at the turn of the millennium. 10 years into the millennium, we spent a lot of time talking about them and trying to understand them in the workplace. I personally refer to millennials as “the experience” generation. Truly independent, one that places a premium on freedom, influential at work, the first true digital and social media adopters and sometimes referred to as the entitled generation.

Today we have a new generation that is a complete mixed bag, driven, ambitious, outspoken, and known to set clear boundaries yet prone to anxiety and mental health challenges. Introducing Gen Z’s, born between 1997 – 2012, they are between 11 and 26 years old today. Though we often think they have had it easy because of all the technology they have at their disposal, truth is their world is probably the most chaotic environment one could have been born into. Experiencing most things in real time, the sensory overload is real. For most generations, access to vices like pornographic material, gambling, illicit drugs, and fraud were several steps aways. Today for our children it’s a click of a button away.

Hopefully we can do some cleaning up before Gen Alphas who are born from 2013 till date come of age.

Bringing these generations into the world of work, I would say in most places on the continent we have 4 generations in the workplace – Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z’s. In other parts of the world, where the retirement age is higher, it could go up to five generations. If we include some African presidents and politicians, we will make the 5-generation mark in Africa.

Let’s talk a bit about the world of work today

A couple of years ago, a planner I worked with told me a story, and in the spirit of oral tradition I’m sure this story has morphed from the original, but I will tell it as I remember it, which I’m sure is flawed.

Jane was a millennial who worked in a technology startup firm as a receptionist, she had a yellow personality, as this personality goes, its bright bubbly affectionate and warm. She got along with almost everyone in the business.

She had had long chats with Oscar the 57-year-old accountant each time his son was back from university, and he was excited. She would be a shoulder to cry on for Sarah the intern after each break-up, and she had had quite a few. She greeted everyone with a bright smile and always offered tea and coffee, and the occasional biscuits. There were times she had a readymade joke, personal fashion tips or big bear hug.

Then came the big retrenchments, there was a need to reduce headcount by five people and unfortunately Jane was impacted. Afterall, people can get their own tea and the front desk didn’t need as much manning.

Productivity begun to dwindle, projects that usually took two weeks begun to take four, then six then eight weeks. A survey was done, and it was discovered that the biggest change was Jane’s departure. The bright personality that put a kick in many people’s step was gone.

The world of work is hugely complex today and we need to pay attention to every detail. Very often we underestimate the impact of the little things in the workplace. Little things like the people who keep the engine going and light up the office. The truth is people are a key component in triple bottom line, we must never forget.

So, what are some of the trends in the workplace today?

Let’s talk about the many trends that are having a significant negative impact on the world of work resulting in us having to be more attune to the health and wellbeing of our people.

  • Cost of living versus income levels

Africans are Magicians. According to the World Bank 2019 data, 85 per cent of Africans live on less than US$5.50 per day, in our local currency that’s less than GH¢65 now. Today this might be slightly higher but with the levels of inflation, I dare say it’s any better. Sadly, businesses are not growing at the same pace at which inflation and employee needs are growing, the hustle is real, and something must change.

  • Stress

We keep hearing “Accra stay by plan”. The stress is rife. Stress is the degree to which we feel overwhelmed or are unable to cope because of pressures that are unmanageable. This is often a combination of pressures. According to the CIPD Health & Wellness at work report 2022, some of the top causes of stress at work include: Workload, relationship, and family issues – often we think that all our people must do is their office work, truth is they have lives beyond work. Management styles is also another key area of stress. Health issues, many people are battling several lifestyle diseases. Also, new work-related demands due to remote work following the pandemic is another key area of stress.

  • Burnout

This is more than being tired. It has a huge impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing. It’s that state of chronic mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that is often accompanied by feelings of pessimism and disinterest in work. Are your people burnt out? As a member of a team, do you feel burnt out?

  • Toxic workplace culture

When I think about the list of toxic workplace cultures, it’s endless. From unhealthy competition, fear of retribution, toxic leadership, discrimination, favouritism, micromanagement, bullying, sexual harassment, I could go on and on.

I want to hone into something that is peculiar to our African context, the idea of inherited suffering, as my friend calls it “sufferation geng” I suffered so you must also suffer.  This sense of passing down struggle even though there are better ways of doing things. When I was an intern, I went to buy breakfast and lunch for everyone so you must do the same even though there is someone whose job it is to do it. This is valuable time one could spend learning and adding real value to the business, but no, errands you will run.

“20 years ago, I could only take three months maternity leave, and I couldn’t even take it at a go.” So even though maternity policies are changing the world over in service of giving women a break, it’s a lie. You must also suffer. “As a matter of fact, after I delivered, my boss called me and asked me where I left a file. And you are complaining? You are lucky to have a job.” Just because we struggled, doesn’t mean others must struggle. Is that what we want for our children? If the answer is yes, then peace be onto you, keep rolling.

  • Quiet quitting

There are people in roles who are just coasting, completely disengaged, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Doing the bare minimum to keep their jobs but are completely dissatisfied with their jobs, not communicating their grievances and have no active intention to leave and find something better for themselves where they can add value.

For employers this is tough, because people show up, yet commitment levels are low, reduced productivity, little initiative, apathy becomes second nature, loss of general enthusiasm and brewing toxicity. Sometimes quiet quitting is worse than a high turnover because it can lead to a slow painful death of an entire business or institution over time.

  • Mental health and wellbeing challenges

Today most Millennials and Gen Z’s face increased struggles with maintaining their mental wellbeing. There are a multitude of reasons why, but I will just focus on a few. Truth is, they simply do not have the same level of grit that that other generations had. They are faced with far more social pressure from a social media and a societal standpoint. They have been faced with extreme economic and political hardship globally as well as evolving or changing family dynamics and structures.

What’s important to the workforce today?

There are some significant differences between these generations and often this is where we focus. I’d like to begin to shift the conversation to the things that unite all the generations in the workplace:

  • Purposeful work

At the heart of keeping most jobs is the ability to meet one’s basic needs, however, more and more people across generations want to do work that is purposeful and has meaning. Work that matters to them. We all can’t work for UNICEF, DFID or a Foundation, but the question stands, does what I do matter? And often if I can find that meaning I can wake up each morning knowing I have value.

  • Growth, progress, movement

We all want progress. From renting a one bedroom, we would like to rent a two bedroom, then we want to buy a house or eventually build our dream home. The same journey applies to other areas. This progress often requires career growth. The pace and what it means is different to various generations. To one it might mean progressing to become a senior manager and to another it might mean learning enough just so they can quit and start their own business.

  • Recognition and appreciation

“Thank you. I appreciate you. You are doing a great job. This is awesome. Wow, you make this look so easy.” For most people they never hear these words from a manger because “It’s your job”, “worst still if I tell you, you will be too happy and you will stop trying.” But if only they did, it would be the fuel some team members need to inspire them to put in more effort. Everyone wants to feel appreciated.

  • Communication

Feedback is a gift; the importance of open and transparent communication cannot be over-emphasized in the workplace. What they did right and wrong… creating the environment where communication is allowed and valued. People are allowed to speak up and say what they think no matter how insignificant. Every generation wants to be heard.

  • Inclusion

Long before DE&I aka diversity, equity and inclusion become a buzz phrase and a big strategic theme across many businesses, we all wanted to belong and be a part of, and we still do. I want to feel considered. When the leadership team was planning, they thought about my unique needs as a parent, student, intern, manager etc.

How does this all come together in tailoring well-being support to the different generation?

I was listening to a podcast by Tim Elmore, and he talks about how by 2025, 70 per cent of the workforce will be made up of Millennials and Gen Z’s. As we know well-being is important to these generations.

  • Workplace policy and guidelines

Workplace policy is mission-critical; you can’t be an organization without one. Conversations on recognition and rewards, community engagement, culture sensitivity and how we treat our people should all be baked into policy.

  • Employee Assistance Programme

Our people are struggling and overwhelmed with various things and don’t always have the right support. It’s our responsibility to build bridges leading them in the right direction. An employee assistance programme that gives our people access to: Psychologists/TherapistsFinancial consultants, Bereavement Support, Whistle blower access & Health insurance etc. These things make a world of difference, that’s how they know we care, are ready act and are willing to create psychological safety for our people.

  • Work life integration

For years we talked about work life balance, today it’s more than balance. It’s integration. How does my work fit into my life seamlessly and vice versa? Everyone wants nothing more than to have a decent level of flexibility, to not only work remotely, but to work in a fashion that allows them to thrive. As a leader are you a guard dog or a guide dog? We should consider output-based work, I need these out puts by this time and I don’t need to micromanage you. As long as I get my body of work, that’s what matters. This requires two-way trust and technology as an enabler. This is the future of work, and it has begun. Are you ready?

  • Training and development

Upskilling and reskilling are mission critical. Some older generations might have technological gaps and the younger generations might need vision guidance, just so they can have a better view of the possibilities the future holds. Appraisals are now career conversations, it’s not just about the organization’s needs. It takes the needs and goals of our people into account because it’s at that intersection that magic happens.

  • Trusted Leadership that operates in service of a healthy organizational culture

It’s not just about revenue numbers. There has never been a better time to lead with true care, empathy, and interest in our people. As leaders, we need to be multidimensional and view things from a multi-generational lens. Openness, trust, inclusivity, collaboration, an open-door policy, and employee empowerment are at the heart of culture. This is not a kumbaya conversation. This is how we thrive in the workplace and protect the bottom-line.

A few days ago, my boss told me “You can’t wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep.” My question to you is,  “Are you asleep, taking a nap or pretending to be asleep?” My hope is that it’s not the latter because then there is no hope. For the former, I believe this conversation starter will serve as some form of alarm, that wakes us up to the need to focus on the wellbeing of your people. Hopefully I have managed to spark some enthusiasm that inspires action.

>>>the writer is Chief Client Officer & Head of Connected Culture at Ogilvy Africa

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You might also like