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Be innovative - leverage your corporate wellness programme to address generational gap issues

By: Gracia Sim

As a social enterprise that works a lot with seniors to advocate for a more age-inclusive society, we’re well aware of the tensions that arise from the experienced generational gap in society. So it’s little surprise to read in the papers that disagreements in thinking and working styles are also happening in the workplace.

The repeated narrative is this – the younger generation lacks the maturity or experience to see the long term perspective, have unrealistic ideas and are resistant to feedback; the older generation on the other hand don’t seem to be open to new ideas, are fixed on established processes and don’t provide opportunities for their younger counterparts to provide fresh ideas to do things.

When we spoke to the vice president of data analytics company SoftSource Solutions about his successful experiences with managing his younger employees after 20 years of being in the industry, he shared this:

“We need to understand what motivates each other. Can managers challenge younger people at the right level and nurture their number twos to take over them? We need to give them the space to learn from imperfections while being an open sounding board to test the validity of ideas. I like to abide by the rule of shared risks - they make mistakes, but so do we; when we allow them the ability to take risks to try new things and empower them to achieve something, the manager and the company gains too.”

The above points to a win-win collaboration that works with a positive mentoring relationship. Indeed, a research study by the Nanyang Business School on workplace ageist stereotypes reflects that older supervisors think of young people as quick-learners, meticulous and willing to spend long hours at work. Younger employees also generally spoke highly of the older counterparts’ work experiences and industry knowledge.

These positive qualities that each generation has identified in the other speaks of the value they see in each other as co-workers. So what stands in the way of positive mentoring happening more often? In the same study, participants also suggested that better working relationships could be fostered with the right kind of opportunities to work and learn from one another, such as social events or team building events, which genuinely foster constructive interactions.

The “right kind of opportunities” that foster constructive interactions

Why not leverage corporate wellness programmes as an avenue to build bonds and promote understanding between generations? A company’s wellness programme is not just an activity - it’s an avenue outside of the “stipulated job description” for people to come together and interact with one another to improve both their physical wellness as well as their social interaction skills. The year long programme is then a two-fold experience that can not only improve health, but also foster a culture of openness, constructive communication and respect for one another.

We have three practical tips to create a purposeful intergenerational corporate wellness programme:

1. Intentionally group employees into intergenerational teams and encourage playing and having fun together to create positive experiences.

2. Facilitate multiple opportunities where employees can share about their health goals and encourage each other to achieve these together. One example could be to set out a few team challenges, like a healthy eating challenge or physical activity boot camp, where teams work together to attain gains in muscle mass over a period of time.

3. Create activities that leverage the strengths of each generation – for example, a fun Instagram challenge that posts the process of recreating a healthy version of a traditional local dish. This leverages on the social media savviness of the young and the culinary knowledge of their elders.

Being innovative means thinking outside of the box and incorporating principles from successful case examples of intergenerational programmes like Microsoft's reverse mentoring that encourages both generations to share thoughts, insights and raise questions to understand one another to leverage each other’s strength for better collaboration into our corporate wellness programmes.

Taking care of employees' health doesn’t just mean throwing together a list of health-related activities – it should be an innovative process to create a relevant and a practical solution for your co-workers.

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