Learning & Development

Training and Engaging Employees in Today’s Multigenerational Workplace

The multigenerational workplace is here. By 2020, most organizations will have at least four different generations working alongside each other.


Source: Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock

While this wealth of experience will bring all the benefits of diversity, it will also require corporate cultures to adapt to varied working and communication styles. After all, there is no right way to work within an organization. There are, however, a multitude of different opinions and preferences.

There are five different generations currently active in the workplace. Of those, Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y (Millennials) make up most of the workplace, while the number of Generation Z employees increases year on year. By 2020, Millennials will comprise more than 50% of the American workforce.

Generational Characteristics

Significant preferences that characterize each of these generations stem from their values, work ethic, and preferred communication methods. These differences are all uniquely valuable and certainly can’t be used to define individuals completely. However, they are useful measures for employers to use to understand their workforce.

For example, key attributes of Baby Boomers (1946–1964) are workaholism and acceptance. They typically question authority and favor crusading causes. They prefer to communicate one-on-one or on the telephone. However, they aren’t as receptive to receiving feedback.

Gen Xers (1965–1980) are self-reliant, skeptical, and informal. They value work/life balance and prefer to communicate directly, via e-mail, or through text message. They prefer direct feedback.

Millennials (1981–2000) are realistic, goal-focused, and purpose-driven multitaskers. They prefer to communicate via text message or on social media and value lots of immediate feedback.

Gen Zs (1995–2015), who are gradually entering the workplace, value authenticity and creativity. They desire a flexible workplace and want to communicate digitally on handheld devices wherever possible. Again, they prefer immediate feedback.

So, this begs the question: How can a workplace accommodate every generation without leaving anyone out?

Accommodating All Generations

Well, according to Harvard Business Review, the best strategy is to not dwell on differences. Instead, focus on similarities and seek unity. Although each generation is different, avoid stereotyping.

According to research, there are more similarities than differences across the generations. While minute details may differ, overall motivations tend to be very similar.

For example, most people want to feel engaged, and as though their work has value. This provides a feeling of fulfillment, that which all generations ultimately seek. Additionally, they want to feel that they are paid fairly and respected for what they bring to the team.

So, it is important to view individual contributions as uniquely valuable. The easiest way to do this is to utilize cross-generational mentoring. Rather than assuming only the younger generations have something to learn from their older colleagues, provide opportunities for all generations to learn from each other.

Supporting Learning

To support this, implement strategic training programs that engage each employee while accommodating their needs. Blend new and old learning styles and techniques to give everyone the best of both worlds.

Younger generations can equip older generations with the tools to communicate digitally and pass on the benefits of goal-centered working. Older generations can pass on their experiences and encourage younger generations to engage in more face-to-face communication.

With so much to learn and pass on, a multigenerational workplace can create a culture that values every individual. So, focus on those similarities that draw the different generations together. Allow each employee to both learn and pass on their uniqueness. After all, age is merely a number.

Commonly Asked Questions and Answers

To understand this topic more in depth, Robie has provided the following Q&A:

Q: Why is it important to consider different learning styles today?

A: We are in the perfect storm. It is a very tight job market, with multiple options for candidates and current employees. If employees don’t feel engaged and empowered, they only need to respond to a recruiter on LinkedIn to find another opportunity.

Keeping your employees informed and connected is more critical now than ever. The focus can’t just be on recruiting—it needs to be on engaging and retaining the right employees to support your culture.

Q: We have heard a lot about microlearning. Can you offer some explanation?

A: Microlearning delivers training in quick 2- to 7-minute sprints but is usually associated with a specific learning outcome. Designed to be delivered in high-impact formats, microlearning leads to a more creative and engaging learning experience.

Gamification and other tools can include challenges, video-based learning, and story-based learning, as well as leverage augmented reality, virtual reality, and wearable tech. Creating an interesting and innovative way to connect all generations can come from a clear understanding of the culture beyond the expected learning styles assigned to each generation.

Q: Gen X sometimes gets skipped over in the generational discussion. What are a few tips to help engage Gen Xers with regard to communication and training?

A: Gen Xers like the freedom to figure things out on their own and come up with answers and alternatives. They are the latchkey generation and have an independence that doesn’t always align with group training programs.

For them to get on board and participate, they need to understand the relevancy. They see training as intrinsically linked with career security and a plus for the job market. Having a say in the content for the program would be highly motivating.

Q: Can you share a tip that would work for any generation?

A: Cross-generational mentoring is a great way to engage and enlighten employees of all generations and disciplines. Programs and training can work both ways, often with younger generations mentoring older generations on new trends or technology, like social media. All age groups have opportunities to learn from each other. It is also a great way to increase an employee’s exposure to colleagues from other departments and locations.

To learn even more about this topic, join Robie when she presents the webinar Adaptive Learning Strategies for the Multigen Workforce: How to Establish a Vision for Engaging Employees of All Ages” on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Click here to learn more or to register today.

Jody RobieJody Robie has worked for more than 20 years designing and developing world-class marketing strategies for companies worldwide. Currently, she oversees North America for Talent Works International, a global talent acquisition communications firm headquartered in the United Kingdom. She has been at Talent Works International for more than 5 years, helping clients leverage the company’s team of insight specialists, creative marketers, and global recruiters.