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Intergenerational/Multigenerational Wellness at Work: Program Ideas that You Can Use

For the first time in history, there are five very distinct generations in the workforce. The way in which these different generations respond to technology, education, communication and their own health varies drastically. In this expert interview, Brett Powell, Vice President and Wellness Consultant at the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, shares some characteristics of each generation along with research and experience to provide strategies that you can use to engage a multi-generational population in your wellness program.

Intro:

For the first time in history, there are five very distinct generations in the workforce. The way in which these different generations respond to technology, education, communication and their own health varies drastically. In this expert interview, Brett Powell, Vice President and Wellness Consultant at the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, shares some characteristics of each generation along with research and experience to provide strategies that you can use to engage a multi-generational population in your wellness program.

Intergenerational/Multigenerational Wellness at Work:
Program Ideas That You Can Use
An Expert Interview with Brett Powell

Sara Rauch Hi, Brett.

Brett Powell Hello, Sara.

SR Thank you so much for joining me today for this interview. Can you talk a little bit about your journey to where you are now at the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, for those who don’t know your story?

BP Yeah, sure. I think my journey’s actually a little bit unique in that I’m a second-generation wellness practitioner. I was kind of born into this field. My father founded the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, or AIPM, in 1983, which was two years before I was even born. So, some of my earliest memories are wellness-related. On top of that, my mom’s a yoga instructor, so I was getting wellness from all angles from an early age. Some of my earliest memories are running around my dad’s office and you know, bothering employees. And, then when I was old enough to have fine motor skills, I was literally helping assemble kits and brochures and things that were going out to clients. And, even from a very early age, my dad was bouncing ideas off me about wellness products and programs and things that I had no idea that I would ever eventually end up actually working with.

So, it’s been an interesting journey. I’d say when I was in college I was a bit resistant to the idea of going into the field, mostly because my father had been so tied to it for so long and I kind of felt this desire to create my own journey and my own path and my own career. But in some really serious and enlightening discussions with him, he convinced me that not only could I still carve my own path and create my own journey within wellness and with AIPM, but if AIPM were to continue to be successful in the future, that I would have to do that. So, that encouraged me to at least start with the organization 10 years ago, almost exactly. I just celebrated my 10-year anniversary with AIPM.

So when I started, he brought me in at a very entry level doing sales and learning the business that way. And, I’ve held a variety of positions since then, and now find myself doing a lot of consulting. So, I work on strategy with our clients in terms of designing their programs, but also strategy internally in terms of how we are going to design our programs in a way that they’re meaningful for clients in actually making change.

That’s a little bit on the journey. Kind of a little bit different than most, I would imagine, but happy to be here nonetheless.

SR That’s really cool. Early on, you were inspired by the opportunity to evolve AIPM and maybe evolve an industry. You’ve had many roles since you made that decision. What’s changed and what compels you to do this work today?

BP Well, I’ve always been driven by the prospect of helping other people. And doing what I would refer to as contributing to the greater good of society. So, this idea of being able to help others live a healthier lifestyle and live a more fulfilled life without needing an MD, that was exciting to me, because I knew I wasn’t going to be a doctor. But I also saw this as something that was bigger than just worksites. It’s quite evident that the people that live in this country and the country itself need healing. And, so I saw this field as an opportunity to attempt to have an impact on that.

I think the other thing that really compels me in this field is the people I work with. I had the opportunity to meet some people early on in those years that were truly inspiring, and

I was just so awestruck by how embracing some of the leaders in the field were in terms of collaboration. And it didn’t have the same feel of competitiveness. It seemed like we were all in it to really affect change and move the needle on health and wellbeing in the country.

So that was a really profound experience that I had that really helped drive me to stay with it.

And, you know, I’ve actually seen programs work. I think that’s one of the other things that really compels me to stay with it, is I’ve seen just how much impact we can have on a person’s life when a program is successful and when they do make a change, whether it’s big or small. So, that prospect of affecting one person’s life in a positive manner is so profound, let alone the idea that we have the ability to affect the lives of large populations or even millions of people. So that really keeps me engaged in the work.

SR Absolutely. You know, we’re doing things that are great for business and great for people. That always keeps me rooted to this work as well. How did having two parents who were so dedicated to wellness professionally personally shape your wellness philosophy? Has it evolved and changed?

BP That’s a good question. I’m not often asked that. I’m often asked that question in a different way when people find out what I do. They make the assumption that I’m healthy because I work in wellness. But I think a lot of people may not know my background or my parents’, and so they don’t ask that question. I’m immediately drawn to a comparison of what we try to do with workplaces now, which is ingrain wellbeing in the culture so finely that people just kind of gravitate towards it. It doesn’t need to necessarily even be a conscious decision; it’s just there. And, I think that’s how I grew up. I mean, the culture of our family was one of wellness. There wasn’t really a choice of whether you’re going to be living a healthy lifestyle; that was just the way of our household.

So, even if I were sitting on the couch watching TV, my mom would walk into the room and it was like, “Okay, Brett, so, what’s your plan for the day?” I mean 10 minutes of TV was too much! I enjoyed going outside and being active and that was so much a part of who we were as a family, because both my parents were active. And, then when it came to eating and what was around in the house, we had the occasional bowl of ice cream or pizza that we ordered, but in general, my mom was cooking every night and she was cooking nutritious meals that were delicious and also healthy.

I keep going back and forth in my mind between this parallel of the household culture and the organizational culture. Obviously, the household culture is so much easier to control, because it’s so much smaller. But that’s really what it was, it was just a way that we grew up where living a healthy lifestyle was so ingrained in what we did, that’s who we all were and who we all became. And, so a lot of those practices have stayed with me to this day, I think as a result of that upbringing.

SR I think it’s interesting. Ryan and I were having this conversation and he said,

“Well, when you take the human out of the workplace, people get sick, and then we add on all of these artificial things on top of that to make them well again.”

What if we just made workplaces more human, so that we were designing workplaces to allow for humans to do what humans needed to do in a course of a day? And, I think that’s what your description is making me think of, and it’s a very intuitive one.

BP Yeah, I love that. If you go back to my childhood, which was just allowing me to be human in the way that humans are supposed to live, and I love the line you can draw from that to the workplace. And how many problems would probably be solved if we just let humans do what they should be doing throughout the day.

SR Yeah, absolutely. We’re talking about a bigger vision for wellness. What do you think the wellness value story really is if we’re defining wellness in the way that we’re defining it so far in this conversation? The story has been really rooted in healthcare cost containment historically. Looking at things from this perspective, what do you think is that true value of improving wellbeing at work that our industry should be communicating?

BP The narrative has been around cost containment and ROI, return on investment. And I think it’s in part our own field’s fault that we got there. You know, there was a time when this field wasn’t a given as far as being a stronghold in the corporate environment. So we were trying to justify our existence, and there were some studies that pointed to ROI and cost containment. We really gravitated towards that, then the consultants did, and then the whole country did. And, all of a sudden, this was just known as the field where you could save money.

But no other fields of endeavor point to that. I mean, you don’t talk about ROI in a lot of other workplace programs. Which by the way, just to be clear on ROI, I do still believe, and I have seen programs that do produce an ROI if they’re done truly in an effective way. But I think for good reason, we have shifted our focus. The field has come along in talking about VOI or value on investment, which I think is a better term to encompass the larger benefits that we can see from the programs that we deliver.

I think the thought leaders, the people having conversations around this, are always about 10 years ahead of the field itself. So, even though you can go to conferences and hear people talking about value on investment and talking about a lot of other things related to benefits of wellness and where our value proposition should be, that doesn’t mean that the field has caught up quite yet. But at least we’re headed in the right direction.

Some things that I see as falling under that umbrella of value and things that can be positive outcomes of wellbeing programs that aren’t necessarily tied to ROI or talked about as much is attracting and retaining talent, keeping employees engaged in their work, and a sense of social responsibility. Keeping people happy.

I think that can’t be undervalued. How happy are not just your employees, but how happy are your customers? That can all be tied to the happiness and wellbeing of your employee population. It’s defining a sense of purpose at an organizational level and at an individual level amongst employees and the population.

There are some other things that have been talked about for a while but are more difficult to measure, so they kind of get left out of the conversation. Productivity; if a person is well and happy, they’re going to be a better employee, they’re going to be a more productive employee, and they are going to be there more often. So, there’s a lot of things that are more difficult to measure, but when we start to discuss them, they really all tie together and they all start to make sense. If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your organization is the summation of that idea.

And, there’s been a lot written on the topic of financial returns. There’s been groups that have a keen interest in organizations who do embrace some of these concepts in terms of taking care of their employees and see how they perform compared to those not embracing those concepts. They’ve performed quite well. So there is still a case to be made that organizations who do invest in their people can not only be as competitive as other organizations, but they can actually do better in terms of their financial impact.

SR I think you touched on a lot of concepts that all lead up to a value story that seems more rooted in being an employer of choice. Things like retaining your talent, attracting the best talent, performance, and some of that research around the Firms of Endearment where we’re finding that purposeful organizations financially outperform organizations that we thought of as employers of choice in the past. Wellness is well-positioned to do that if we broaden the value story to include the things that you said, like social responsibility, happiness, employee engagement, productivity, and innovation. I think that is the direction we have to go.

BP One of the other things that firms of endearment really talks about that I didn’t get into is how they bring in all stakeholders, including their vendors and how they treat them. It’s everywhere along the chain of command; everybody’s involved, and everybody is treated with the same sense of importance as their clients would be. So I think that’s a really holistic view on how people should be treated in general.

SR Absolutely. Because, the one thing that I think is an opportunity that we miss out on when we focus too strongly or too closely on the healthcare cost containment story is there’s not really a place for employees to demand that kind of environment for themselves. We’re really talking about what the organization thinks that they need to contain costs. But this broader story allows for employees to actually demand this kind of workplace that treats them like a human, gives them what they need and truly cares about them as individuals. You mentioned that these conversations happen at conferences, but they don’t necessarily always translate into what people are doing in the workplace and what’s tactically available to them to actually start doing. How has AIPM begun to shift in line with this value story? How are you helping people connect with this kind of wellness?

BP Yeah. I mentioned this is something that I get the opportunity to work on, which is exciting, because we want our programs to work. We have such a great opportunity in front of us to really affect change and allow people to live up to their potential. So providing things that work is obviously of utmost importance.

I think something we’ve done here at the Institute is really place a larger emphasis on our more high-touch programming. Things that come to mind are health coaching programs and placing coordinators onsite to carry out wellbeing initiatives and wellbeing programs at our client organizations. So, this stems from a lot of what we’ve talked about, which is making the workplace and making our work more human. It would be tough, I would argue, to make wellbeing programs really, truly human if the entire program was delivered online. So we’ve really been focusing here at the Institute on more human programs that involve coaches or educators to deliver those programs that are suitable for each individual. That’s another thing; not treating the entire population as one, but actually treating each individual as the unique person that they are. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s better suited to do that than a human. So that’s certainly something that we’ve done.

Now, I understand that there are additional costs anytime you bring in people to deliver programs as opposed to technology. And, it’s not to discount technology. I think technology is a really nice adjunct to high-touch programs. But we’ve seen some really nice success with the programs that involve people, that involve coaching and that involve programs onsite. So we’ve tried to really center our focus around those aspects as the core of the program and then build around that and see how we can support those programs.

And, vice versa, how can we get those people who are at the center of the program to help engage people in those other things, which are really great programs? We find when we focus on the people first and do it with people, that we’re able to build trust with the individuals. And, then they’re more willing to participate in not only the programs that are people-led, but also the programs that are taking place online and elsewhere.

SR It sounds like you have been successful at developing strategies to not treat the whole population as one, but address the unique needs in a population. You’re already working a lot of these ideas about diverse workforces into some solutions that you are implementing at AIPM. So, I wanted to ask you more about that, because you do a lot of speaking about trans-generational wellness. Why do you think this is an important concept for wellness professionals?

BP I’ve long been interested in generational issues as it relates to wellness. And, I think it stemmed from an early age, being a young millennial in the field and being an observer of what was happening. It seemed to me like a lot of the programs weren’t really good at engaging young people. And, it led me to do just a couple of Google searches to find out if anybody was talking about how to engage the multigenerational workforce. I’d been acutely aware, because a lot of people talked about millennials. It was also the first time we had four generations working side-by-side. You had millennials and Gen X and Baby Boomers, and at the time, you even had some Traditionalists. Now, they’re only about 2% of the population. But now we’ve got Gen Z, the post-millennials.

So, there’s still all this diversity and to me, it was a natural evolution of the field in terms of making our programs more sophisticated and more effective in the same way that we started to target health risks.

We wouldn’t expect a diabetes management program to be delivered to someone who’s suffering from asthma. Why would we expect that a program that’s appealing to a baby boomer also be the same program that’s appealing to a millennial?

So, that’s what really started to get me interested in it, and then the more research that I did, I found out that there’s actually all this data that’s already out there about what the preferred learning methods are. But not only that, I think more importantly is, what motivates people of different generations? The motivating factors for somebody to get engaged in wellness are really different by age. Older people are motivated by way different things than younger people are. So I started to get really interested in how we can leverage information that’s already available to make our programs more effective.

Then, when I realized that I had exhausted the research that was out there, I said, “All right. Maybe it’s time for us to conduct our own research.” And, so a few years ago, we set out and did our own research on generational attitudes toward health and wellbeing in the workplace. That research helped to confirm some of the things that we’d already seen and also discover some new things that were quite interesting, too, that we’ve brought to our programs here at AIPM.

SR What were some of the major takeaways from that research? And, then maybe give us an example of how you’ve applied those since you learned them?

BP There are two major things. Programmatic takeaways, like things that you just wouldn’t necessarily think about in terms of what program topics would be inherently more interesting to people of different ages. Some are pretty easy to predict, like if you’re holding a session on preventing injury or managing chronic pain, you might assume that older people would be more motivated to participate in something like that. Chronic pain and injuries become more of a top-of-mind when you get older. And, that’s exactly what the research showed.

What about a topic like sleep enhancement? Sleep has become a very widespread issue in the country, and it’s beginning to be addressed in workplace wellness as well. Are generations equally interested in sleep enhancement? Well, we found in our research that actually the younger a person is, the more likely they are to be interested in sleep.

So those were interesting takeaways, because we covered a variety of different topics. Then you can also use the data to say, “All right. There’s certain topics that are interesting across the board, no matter what age you are.” Things like having improved energy and alertness during the day, or improving work-life balance. Those are things that no matter what age you are, those are of interest to you. So that kind of stuff is really interesting to know when you’re planning programs.

But the other thing, and I think the biggest takeaway is what I alluded to in terms of the motivation. The largest difference in motivation to participate in these programs is—and we see this time and time again with both our research and others’—is the impact of using improved health as the benefit for participating. You know you should exercise for 30 minutes a day, because it’ll reduce your risk for heart disease and diabetes. You should eat healthier for X, Y, Z reason.

What we’ve learned is that for older people, using health as a motivating factor does actually work.

For younger people, it does not work at all. You’ve discounted about half of your population if you’re using improved health as the outcome of participating in a program.

What young people are very motivated by, it turns out, are things that are bigger than themselves; social issues, environmental issues, things that are purpose-driven. You can tie a program to something that’s a social justice issue or an environmental issue, again, something that’s part of the greater good or impacting the greater good. And then, all of a sudden, young people are going to perk up and be really interested.

SR That makes sense. Most young people aren’t going to really be motivated by a cause/effect relationship that they deem as way far in the future. That what they do today may impact how they would feel in 20 years as opposed to the immediate gratification they’re going to get from being connected with higher purpose or making new social connections or something like that.

BP That’s exactly it. Older people, just by nature of being older, they’ve had chronic disease set in, they have friends with heart disease, and, unfortunately, they may have heart disease. They probably have lost friends at that point in their life, prematurely, due to some health-related factor. They might have grandchildren that they want to see grow older. They just have different motivations and different realities compared to that of young people where health just isn’t top-of-mind for them.

There are other things that are important to them. It’s a matter of creating the connection so that they can see that, walking or biking has an environmental impact. If you promote the environmental impact of it, they don’t even need to know that the walking or biking is good for their health. They’re good with just the environmental impact.

SR Back to the concept of building wellness into living that we talked about earlier, it doesn’t have to be top-of-mind for it to be important and a part of your general way of doing things. So how do you go about bridging that multigenerational or intergenerational gap when you’re communicating the value of wellness? How do you do that in a scalable way across the organization if you’re the wellness manager or consultant onsite at an organization?

BP Providing programs that are going to be inherently interesting to the diverse population. Generational diversity is certainly not the only form or the most important form of diversity that we see in the workplace. There’s all sorts of other forms of diversity in terms of things that can impact health and wellbeing. This just happens to be the one that I’ve taken an interest in, but other forms of diversity should be addressed as well.

But in terms of bridging the generational gap, I think in the programming we can do that. I think there’s a lot of things that may get overlooked. Even if you’re covering a variety of topics, if you’re always bringing in the same baby boomer presenter, they may not be as relatable to the younger people. I think just bringing in generationally diverse speakers is one way to address that.

In the motivation that we talked about, which is the big piece outside of programming, I think that people tend to think, if they put out some type of promotion to get people to sign up and they’re assuming that everybody is going to respond in the same way. Whereas, marketing can be more targeted and you can send out different messages that different people are going to relate to. So, you might have some messaging that deals with the health-related factors of walking. That might motivate some of your older people to participate. But then you can address some of the other issues like the environmental factors—the idea of socially connecting with coworkers during lunch and walking. That may get younger people interested.

I think getting creative in the way that we market these programs is a really important factor in bridging the gap.

SR I love that point. I want to make sure not to lose the point that you made—that generational diversity is not the only kind of diversity that we need to be thinking about when we’re designing programs. I wonder how often people really think about whether the message maybe isn’t hitting home because employees can’t see themselves in the deliverer or delivery of the message. Thinking about that when we’re designing communications, resources and onsite educational opportunities is a really impactful bit of the strategy.

BP It reminds me of a study that I want to do as our next study at the Institute. We haven’t done it yet, but I’m interested to see if assigning health coaches that are more similar to an individual has any impact on the outcome of the coaching program. So, stay tuned.

SR I think you’ve provided quite a few tactical wellness messaging ideas in terms of communicating with the right message mixed with the right resource. So, if you know that a resource is more relevant to one particular population, make sure you’re communicating that resource in a way that’s also relevant to that same population. If somebody wanted to see some of the research that you have done and really learn more about this, where would they go?

BP We published a paper with all of the results. It’s available at HealthyLife.com/Generations. You can download it there for free. It’s got all of the data that we found, executive summaries and nicely laid-out graphs and charts. We encourage people to use it and leverage it to help improve their programs.

SR What do you think our industry stands to lose if we aren’t thinking strategically about how to engage the diverse workforces that we have?

BP That’s a big question. I think we could actually say, “What does our country stand to lose, not just our industry, if we don’t start to really think about engaging the workforce?” Not to say that addressing generational diversity is the magic bullet. It’s just one tool that we have. But I think if we take a look back and, and say 50 years, 100 years, how has health trended over the last century, it’s pretty scary. We’ve been at it, our industry, for quite some time, give or take 40 years. It’s not like we’ve really been improving our health as a country.

So I think we stand to lose quite a lot if we’re not thinking strategically and creatively. I think addressing diversity in the workforce is one tool that we have. It’s one creative way to help improve what we’re doing. But it’s not the magic bullet. I think we really need to think creatively as an industry about all of the ways in which we can better engage our populations. Because, I don’t think it’s a fault of the actual programs themselves. I know that these programs work. There are a ton of organizations out there providing really good wellbeing programs and resources. So it’s not for lack of availability of programs, but it’s really getting people engaged in a meaningful way.

We need to band all of the creative minds together and leverage what we know about diversity. Because, we’re not just competing against other workplace programs, we’re not just competing against other health-related programs. We are now competing for people’s time and energy away from things like apps on their phones. We’re quite literally competing with Instagram, Facebook, and Netflix, and those companies do a pretty good job at marketing and at occupying people’s attention. So, if we’re going to truly get somebody to get involved in thinking about their wellbeing, we’re going to have to be pretty darn good at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

I don’t think I can claim to have the answer, or anybody can, but I really do challenge anybody to not assume that we’ve gotten there yet. Think outside the box in terms of what we can do and who we can bring in, who out there should we be leveraging as an industry to help improve what we’re doing.

WELCOA does a really good job at thinking outside the box in terms of bringing in experts in other fields that may not be historically thought of as someone that you’d see at a wellbeing conference or interviewed on a podcast or encouraged as a leader in wellbeing, but that may have a lot to offer to the field.

SR Thank you Brett. Is there anything else that you wanted to add before we wrap up about the work that you are doing, or anything else?

BP I do usually like to tell people and I’m dead-serious about it, is that if anybody was moved or sparked or wants to reach out, feel free to get in touch with me. I genuinely enjoy talking about wellness and I truly am passionate it. So, if anybody wants to carry on a conversation about anything mentioned either today or otherwise, LinkedIn is a suitable way to find me.

About Brett Powell, CWPC

Vice President | Wellness Consultant
BPowell@healthylife.com | LinkedIn

Brett Powell

Brett Powell has been involved in the wellness field for over a decade. Most of that time has been dedicated to designing and implementing health promotion programs for companies and communities. He presently is a Vice President at the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, a URAC Accredited Wellness company located in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Brett is considered to be one of the nation’s foremost authorities on engaging a multigenerational workforce in wellness programs. He is a sought after speaker at national conferences and he has written extensively on the subject.

He was instrumental in the development of a comprehensive wellness program for the largest insurance company in Peru, the first program of its kind in South America.

Brett is a certified Wellness Program Coordinator. He also has a degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan. He enjoys utilizing his background in Psychology to help organizations provide suitable programs that ensure positive behavior change. Brett’s career is motivated by the prospect of affecting one person’s life in a positive manner, let alone the lives of many.

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