August 22, 2019

Five tips to engage your multi-generational workforce through learning

Employees of different generations may approach learning differently. Here are five ways companies can adopt a modern learning and development strategy to effectively engage a multi-generational workforce.

Britt Armour

Britt Armour is a content marketing specialist at Ceridian, where she writes about the HCM space, and how Dayforce is disrupting traditional HR solutions.  

As the world of work changes at a rapid pace, learning is becoming more of an imperative. Technology is changing the way we work in nearly every industry, and as a result, employees must refresh their skills more frequently to keep up to speed.

Learning and development approaches must reflect these changes, however, with five different generations of talent employed in any given workplace, from traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z, it can be difficult to understand how to cater to the specific needs of each generation. Employees from different generations may approach learning from widely different perspectives, formats, and mediums.

The multi-generational workforce brings different levels of expertise, skills, and experience to the workplace. To fully realize these benefits, employers need to understand that it’s no longer effective to use a blanket approach for learning and development.

Companies looking to build the skills for the workforce of the future will need to engage their multi-generational workforce with a modernized approach. Here are five ways companies can accomplish this:

1. Personalize the learning experience

Global research analyst Josh Bersin claims, “learning will become more integrated – meaning that learning recommendations and plans will incorporate information from performance management, comp, benefits, every employee-facing system." He adds that the key is to intelligently recommend the right content to each user in a personalized way, presenting material that matches their role, tenure, personal activity history, and more.

Personalized learning platforms can be adapted for different learning styles and allow companies to develop customized learning paths for each employee. This type of learning system can even recommend modules to the learner based on their own unique content usage, which will promote engagement and ultimately the retention of information.

Learn more about how workplace learning is evolving. Download the 2019 Human capital management trends report

2. Bring generations together

Companies must understand that five different generations of employees are now working together and have varying learning styles. Baby boomers favor personal communication and face-to-face interaction, while millennials and Gen Z prefer more collaborative learning styles.

Leading companies are increasingly pairing younger workers with more seasoned employees. Chip Conley wrote in the Harvard Business Review that it’s essential to encourage more experienced employees to impart knowledge onto younger employees. He, himself, allocated 20% of his time coaching employees during his time as Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy at Airbnb. Conley explains that these programs act as mutual mentoring. Another Harvard Business Review article claims that employees in their 20s do well in collaborative environments as it’s what they were used to in college.

Mentorship programs are beneficial for organizations in industries that are being disrupted by tech, such as financial services. Mentors or executives can impart knowledge on their mentee, while the mentee can educate their mentor on current trends in tech. This can mean anything from an informal buddy system where employees meet once a month, to a more formalized, company-wide program. The key is that learning can go both ways in these arrangements, resulting in an overall positive impact for broader teams.

Additionally, mentorships will help all team members understand one another’s strengths so they can leverage the right skills and capabilities for a particular project, for example, or to solve a complex business problem.

3. Cater to different levels of tech users

Members of the younger generations, particularly millennials and Gen Z, are “digital natives,” which has a sizeable impact on how they learn in corporate settings. However, older generations aren’t as tech-averse as one might think.

According to a study by CompTIA, a little over 51% of millennial employees use cloud-based tools for work purposes compared to 33% of baby boomers. Furthermore, the study finds that older generations prefer technology to be more user-friendly, while younger employees want faster implementation of new technologies at work.

What’s key is acknowledging those differences and using technology to meet the needs of all generations. Microlearning, which is “bite-sized” learning moments via text message or short clips that build on each other over time, is an effective way to accomplish this.

4. Understand different motivators and learning styles

The way in which younger generations consume and retain content can be different from the generation that preceded it. For example, millennials and Gen Z tend to favor short snippets of information, in fun and engaging ways as opposed to long-form manuals and training materials.

Additionally, older generations of talent usually prefer working independently, while younger employees prefer more collaborative approaches to learning new skills and capabilities. Social learning through learning experience platforms (LXPs) will help engage younger generations as employees can share their expertise via technology, similar to social media platforms. Traditionalists and baby boomers, for example, can act as “experts” within a channel or discussion forum to help solve problems and answer questions in a collaborative way. Not only does this contribute to knowledge sharing across the organization, but it can contribute to employee morale.

5. Focus on the largest segment

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 97% of the U.S. workforce consists of three generations: Baby boomers, Gen X, and millennials. However, by 2020, millennials will represent at least 50% of the workforce. If millennials become the predominant generation, then training should focus more on their learning characteristics.

However, companies must find a balance in addressing the needs of the predominant workforce, while still engaging the traditionalists and baby boomer segments. Leveraging technology that provides a central repository of company information, the employee handbook, policies, etc. as well as an on-demand, modern approach, could help fulfill the needs of both generations.

Read next: Six strategies to retain millennial and Gen Z employees

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