Multigenerational workforces demand different health care experiences

As the workforce continues to evolve, employers will need to find ways to ensure their health plan delivers an experience in line with their employees’ needs and expectations.

From new college hires to seasoned executives, it’s not uncommon for an employee population to span multiple generations. In fact, there are 4 commonly defined generations currently active in the workplace today: Baby Boomers, Generation X (Gen X), Millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z).

With these multigenerational employee populations come varying health care needs, expectations and preferences. For instance, Baby Boomers are likely to have different health care issues and priorities than their younger counterparts, based on several factors including biological age, life experience and socioeconomic influences.

This can make it a challenge for employers to determine which health care experiences are the right fit for their unique employee population. And finding the right fit matters.

It’s important for employers to understand their employee population needs and to keep generational preferences in mind when designing health care plans. Doing so provides options for employees who prefer to access health care in different ways. Not only does this maximize engagement and improve experience, it may lead to higher overall employee satisfaction and talent retention.

“When employers are making decisions about where to invest in their health plan, knowing the preferences of your employee population is critical to maximizing your investment.” 

— Rebecca Madsen, Chief Executive Officer, Advocacy, UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual

Understanding health care preferences by generation? It’s complicated.

While providing quality health care can help attract and retain a talented workforce in this competitive labor market, it can be difficult defining exactly what that means in a generationally diverse workforce.

The first step is to get an understanding of the 4 generations currently comprising the workforce. Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z all have commonalities within their age groups, but it’s also important to understand that within those groups there are also sub-segments that need to be considered. 

Multigernational Chart

A one-pager on multigenerational workforces

An overview of the factors employers should consider when designing their health plans to ensure it meets the needs of a multigenerational workforce and delivers a positive member experience.

Baby Boomers

As the oldest workforce population, Baby Boomers typically have more complex medical needs and approach health care more traditionally than other generations. They tend to value providers with trusted reputations, use PCPs as gateways to care and are loyal to their providers.2

This is also the generation that is most likely to want in-person visits and human touch when scheduling appointments.3

In fact, 70% of Baby Boomers prefer in-person primary care visits to virtual visits, compared to about 50% of all other generations.3

Generation X (Gen X)

This segment is often looking at health care options not only for themselves and their children but potentially for their parents as well.

They tend to rely on multiple sources of information, so they can analyze all available options. And although not as digital-first as subsequent generations, they still tend to take advantage of online and self-serve tools.

Since they are often working full-time while caring for others, flexible scheduling and remote capabilities will likely be important to their decision-making process.3


Currently the largest segment of today’s workforce, Millennials are predicted to dominate for years ahead, accounting for 75% of the total workforce population by 2025.4

In general, Millennials want the convenience to access health care digitally. They also appreciate price transparency and the flexibility to change providers if they are unsatisfied with their experience.3

As Millennials head into their 40s, many are getting diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions that require long-term treatments — making health care more of a priority.

Generation Z (Gen Z)

As the first digitally native generation, Gen Z is just starting to enter the workforce and wants health care to be at their fingertips.

They like the idea of online payment and scheduling, easy access to health data and wearable tracking devices.2

They also place a high value on alternative care and access to behavioral health. In fact, according to a recent survey, Gen Z respondents reported feeling 3 times more emotionally distressed than Baby Boomers, part of which can be attributed to the impact of COVID-19.6

“Now that Millennials make up the majority of the workforce, employers need to change how they structure health care. Millennials are used to experiences that are instantaneous and accessible from multiple platforms.”

— Craig Kurtzweil, Chief Analytics Officer, UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual

Designing a health care experience for a multigenerational workforce

With Millennials dominating today’s workforce and predicted to dominate tomorrow’s, employers might be tempted to cater to that generation’s preferences. But that approach has the potential to alienate other generations, who are just as critical to their employee population.

Employers should instead look to design their health plan and benefits based on their specific employee population. For instance, if a group is 9% Baby Boomer and 38% Gen Z, that employer may want to consider investing in digital tools since that’s how the majority of their population prefers to access health care, says Madsen.

Developing a comprehensive plan with the aim of meeting the needs of a multigenerational workforce by helping employees find quality care, providing a digital-first experience and delivering on a whole-person approach to healthier can also be an effective strategy.

Helping employees find quality care

Advocacy plays an important role in helping employees understand the features included with their plan, so they can take full advantage of their benefits. Advocates also help members navigate the health system, such as recommending more cost-efficient sites of care based their particular situation.

For example, older generations may be more likely to turn to a PCP when needing care, whereas a Gen Z member might head directly to an ER or urgent care facility — which are more expensive sites of care and may not always provide the best experience. Virtual care options can offer younger generations a more streamlined experience without the expense of an ER visit.

Providing a digital-first experience

Although Gen Z is considered a digital-first generation, nearly all generations use digital tools today. This indicates to employers that they should look to ensure their health plan delivers a strong digital experience that meets a wide range of employee expectations, such as offering self-service portals like® and apps to schedule appointments, communicate with their provider and access personal health data.

Focusing on features and services that are generation-agnostic can help employers get the most value out of their benefits packages while providing the functionality demanded by their employees. 

Delivering a whole-person approach to healthier

A recent study found that wellness is one of the top clinical cost drivers across all 4 age segments.This is another common denominator that employers can leverage to add overall value to the health plan and benefits they offer employees.

Investing in wellness programs and encouraging preventive care are approaches that can benefit all generations. Programs like UnitedHealthcare Rewards® that incent employees for engaging in healthy behaviors or lifestyle changes, such as reaching daily physical activity goals, losing weight and completing preventive screenings, help give employees more control over their health.

By building a well-managed plan that takes these generational differences and commonalities into consideration, employers can increase health care utilization among their employees and provide them with tools and resources that can be tailored to individual generations’ needs. In addition to supporting employees with a simpler health care experience, this approach may help lead to lower costs and a healthier workforce for employers.

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