Demographics in the workplace have made extraordinary changes. For the first time in history, four (and very soon to be five) generations are working together in the same careers. All have different values, motivators, and learning styles.
But aside from very different opinions on what the dress code should be, or if there should even be a dress code, there are many areas to find common ground and effectively train different generations.
The key to finding those connections is understanding the intergenerational training dynamics that influenced their perspective on, communication at, and overall approach to work.
Silent Generation or Matures (born 1909-1945)
This very traditional generation is mostly retired, but many are still working in the legal, financial, and real estate industries as senior partners, managers, and consultants. Because they grew up amid the Great Depression and World War II, “Matures” are often patriotic and driven by a sense of duty. They value loyalty, respect authority, and trust institutions.
As unlikely as it may seem that a professional of this age will be in your training session, it is a very real possibility. This generation values quality over saving time, and will prefer face-to-face training and lectures in an old-style brick and mortar location. And despite being a bit challenged in the technology department, the Silent Generation retains a remarkable ability that some fear is disappearing: one-on-one interpersonal skills.
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
In direct contrast to their parent’s generation, Baby Boomers came of age during a time of post-war prosperity and tend to focus on what’s in it for them, being in charge, and saving time. Having been the contemporaries that developed many of today’s technologies, e-learning and online lectures can be of high value in this age group. They are team players who value individuality and status.
Generation X (born 1965-1979)
Valuing people and not institutions or companies, Generation X tends to focus on efficiency. Known as latchkey kids, Xers were raised on mass quantities of slick TV advertisements and constant news of corruption; most have a strong distaste for hierarchy. As the age group that resides comfortably in both worlds of traditional brick and mortar and online education, Generation X responds well to training that emphasizes variety and independence.
Millennials (born 1980-2000)
Born with technology in their tiny little fists, Millennials were raised on love and coddling in economic uncertainty. Extremely tech-savvy, these young professionals seek mentors, open communication, and make decisions based on global impacts. This peer group picks up on the technology details where Gen X leaves off but needs a bit more patience with interpersonal activities.
Generation Z (born 1995-2015)
Today, employees consistently want to be engaged at their workplace while having the opportunity to develop their professional skills and keep up with fast-moving technological advances. Most Gen Z’ers ask for self-directed learning, so they can do so at their own time and pace.
Tactics to develop a training program that is best suited for all audiences
While the details of how certain generations learn best and the explanation of intergenerational training techniques may seem like a multitude of problems to solve (and they could be if not addressed); the solution rests in connecting these diverse skills and perspectives together for the greater good. Use the following tactics to develop an employee training system that is best suited for all audiences by using a combination of techniques such as:
- Addressing the elephant in the room. It is common knowledge that Matures and Boomers tend to see Xers and Millennials as lazy and unmotivated; just as the younger generations see their parent’s and grandparent’s generations as rigid workaholics who will never retire. The difference is that the older generations place more value on getting the job done no matter what, and the younger puts its faith in the work and home life balance. Create groups with one person from each generation, if possible. Have each person share with their group what their personal and professional goals are, then have each group share their results with the class.
- Integrating learning styles. Because each generation responds differently to e-learning, and so we don’t forget how to interact with other human beings altogether, be sure to integrate different learning methods. Generation X will likely appreciate the assortment. For the Matures, provide either a keynote speaker or a person in a position of authority from within the company, if not both. If only one or neither can be achieved, select an expert video from a well-known, trusted industry institution. For Baby Boomers, include a PowerPoint presentation with key takeaways to appease their need to save time. And to satisfy the Millennial need for technology, provide a learning management system that is savvy enough to encourage their engagement, yet clean and straightforward enough for mature users to effectively interact with.
- Balancing motivators. The older generations are motivated by the task at hand, and will enjoy completing a job well done. For added inspiration, show them the cost of providing this training as they relate to solid investment in talent. The younger trainees will be looking for valuable feedback and acknowledgment of their progress.
- Capturing existing skills. Each generation has unique experience and perspective that can be very useful if integrated into the class. For example, have the tech-savvy individuals shed light on any learning management systems used during training; while experience-rich individuals can share industry knowledge.
Encouraging intergenerational communication is the key tool to finding common ground and successful training. Understanding the dynamics that shaped each peer group will allow you to customize training techniques to suit all involved.
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