by Beth Shepard   Beth's profile on LinkedIn  

50 Is the New 40: How Well-Being Programs Can Better Serve Middle-Aged Workers

Have you noticed a shift in your workforce vibe? Gen-X employees are heading over the hill on the heels of their Baby Boomer coworkers, and neither group is retiring anytime soon. Graying of the labor market is in progress; how will your workplace well-being program adapt to better serve this snowballing demographic?

By the Numbers

It’s easy to assume older workers are on their way out the office door, but experts say the opposite is true; the 50+ crowd is participating in the labor force at significantly higher rates than in 2000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 30% of people ages 65-74 will remain in the workforce by 2022, compared to 20% in 2002.
Health, finances, family circumstances, job satisfaction, and social well-being all factor into a decision to keep working well into the traditional golden years. A lot of middle-agers have multiple jobs and struggle just to get by; some want to retire, but can’t; others choose to work because they enjoy their jobs and coworkers.
Whatever the case, the workplace may offer rewards that go beyond the paycheck:

  • Personal and professional fulfillment
  • Intellectual challenge
  • Learning opportunities
  • Sense of purpose and accomplishment
  • Camaraderie and enjoyment.

Thoughtfully designed wellness offerings will meet older workers where they are, providing resources and support for the unique priorities of this life stage.

Not Too Old, No Longer Young

Having more years behind you than in front of you naturally triggers reflection on meaning and priorities. Middle-agers place a high value on quality of life; they want:

  • The health, energy, and endurance for things they enjoy
  • Useful, relevant work
  • Strong relationships
  • Knowledge they’re contributing to the greater good while investing in their own happiness and well-being.

Your wellness program will remain appealing to this group when offerings are attuned to midlife needs and interests that go beyond physical benefits.

  • Encourage volunteerism. Promote a variety of long- and short-term opportunities for employees to help make the world a better place. Giving time and energy to a personally important cause fosters a sense of purpose.
  • Endorse job-crafting. Workshops, manager training, and other resources can help middle-aged workers recognize and use their strengths daily at work. Outline ideas for employee-manager conversations around changes to boost job gratification and opportunities for growth.
  • Offer guidance on money matters. Though diapers and daycare may no longer be concerns, managing a monthly budget, paying for college, funding retirement, long-term care insurance, and will-planning are typically high on the list.
  • Spark reflection. Provide content on journals or memoirs, scrapbooks, or geneology. Invite wellness testimonials and employee-written guest blog posts. Promote community-based education resources on your program website.
  • Cultivate connections. Loneliness and isolation are significant health risk factors, and are more common as people age. Build social connections into your wellness programming and encourage employees to buddy up for activities like walking groups, weekend hikes, healthy potlucks, and sightseeing.
  • Feed curiosity. Many middle-agers are ready to learn something new. Encourage them to explore Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like EdX or Coursera. Communicate your organization’s tuition reimbursement policy and internal training. A company-wide or department-specific book club could meet this need. Bring in speakers on a wide mix of subjects; broadcast community events like author readings, lectures, and arts festivals. Job-related or not, learning promotes thinking — and boosts well-being — at any age.
  • Leverage existing resources. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; ask HR, your retirement benefit administrator, EAP, and others about offerings tailored to middle-agers, then team up to deliver them.

Middle-aged employees bring hard-earned experience, wisdom, and perspective to the workplace; many have a lot of contributions left to make. The right programs and services help them flourish both on and off the job — and there’s no better way to enhance performance as well as loyalty.

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