As companies look to strengthen learning and development (L&D) for employees, the challenges become clear. Namely, effective L&D efforts should meet the employee where they are, providing opportunities that align with their interests, goals and bandwidth. But how can your company do this when your workforce spans multiple generations?
Across the many spectrums of diversity in the workplace, generational differences can affect L&D programs perhaps the most. As the culture around work continues to shift, the age gap between your oldest and youngest employees will increase. The differences in learning preferences will as well.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a part of the L&D conversation because age influences how employees learn and why they learn. It’s at the intersection for L&D and DEI where you will create your most successful programs — ones that offer employees opportunities that match their needs and goals, not one size fits all.
In doing so, employees will experience effective DE&I in action, with measurable results that improve their careers. This is a win for the company and a win for the employee.
But this is often easier said than done. Developing L&D for a range of ages and experiences brings multiple directorial challenges. So, how can you successfully build a culture of learning for a workforce that spans multiple generations? Let’s discuss.
How to navigate a multigenerational workplace
Navigating a multigenerational workplace
To develop quality L&D initiatives, people leaders want to understand what factors would encourage employees to participate, what employees want to learn and how the opportunity fits within their greater professional and personal goals. An employee’s generation can actually be an indicator of what learning programs would resonate with them.
Today’s workforce encompasses five key generations, each with their own motivations for work and general life priorities:
- Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964
- Generation X: born 1965-1980
- Millennials: born 1981-1996
- Generation Z: born 1997-2012
Individuals from different generations have a unique perspective on work and the world, often with unconscious biases towards members of other age groups that may complicate communication or conflict resolution within the workplace.
The key to creating a unified and inclusive company culture is to play off the strengths of each generation while addressing their needs for an accessible workplace. Doing so allows employees to feel heard and sets L&D up for greater engagement and results.
The benefits and challenges of a multigenerational workplace
Having a diverse workforce with people across all age groups provides countless benefits. But it can also be complicated. Being aware of this is the first step in recognizing how to successfully manage a multigenerational workforce and what learning programs will meet employee needs.
Let’s break down the benefits and challenges piece by piece.
The benefits of a multigenerational workplace
Benefits of a multigenerational workforce/span>
- Mentorship and sponsorship opportunities
Mentoring or sponsoring relationships between senior and junior employees are a critical aspect of on-the-job learning and development. And more recently, organizations have begun to encourage mutually beneficial, cross-generational collaboration wherein older and younger employees are able to provide valuable insight and instruction to each other, benefitting both in the process.
- Pipeline building
Having a wide range of ages within your workforce gives you better access to a more expansive talent pool. This enables you to more easily plan for succession and get junior employees in line for leadership and other advanced positions.
- Better innovation and problem-solving
A variety of perspectives bolsters better decision-making and creative thought. Including multigenerational experience on your team allows you to facilitate novel approaches to problem-solving and new adaptations within the workplace.
The challenges of a multigenerational workplace
Challenges of a multigenerational workforce
- Varied relationships to employment
Members of different generations often have different expectations of their employer, with some valuing job security over pay or purposeful work over advancement. But it’s important to note that these values may not break along the generational lines one might predict.Cultivating a company culture with the right perks, benefits and growth opportunities that appease different generations can pose a significant challenge.
- Different preferences for communication
Members of different generations may have a variety of preferences regarding how communications are sent and received, whether in-person, instant messaging, texting, on-camera video conference, off-camera video, or a classic phone call or email.You should expect to keep a variety of channels open to accommodate the needs of your multigenerational workforce and educate employees with best practices on how and when to use each channel.
- Varied relationships to technology
Varying relationships and understanding of technologies ranging from social media to job-specific digital solutions is a particular challenge as many businesses continue to move towards an increasingly hybrid workspace.
Organizational leaders can’t assume that all employees will have an implicit level of digital intelligence. Some may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to ask for help, and others may be frustrated at their colleague’s lack of technical understanding.
Managing L&D for a multigenerational workplace
How to manage learning and development for a multigenerational workplace
Differences in communication styles, relationships to technology and career goals will inevitably shift how your employees learn and why they want to engage in learning and development.
Here’s are a few best practices that can help you optimize your L&D strategy to fit these needs:
Identify the needs of a multigenerational workforce
If you haven’t already, consider surveying employees to get a deeper understanding of how they learn and communicate best. This will give you the qualitative data you need to begin building a program (or optimizing an existing one) that encourages greater engagement across all age groups.
Next, it’s helpful to understand the career goals of employees at different stages of their careers. Younger generations are likely just getting started on their career path and may want to explore cross-departmental training to find their optimal line of work or the best strategy for advancement within your organization. Older generations may want to update their hard-won experience to bring it in line with the demands of ever-advancing technologies.
For example, a junior-level employee might be looking to earn credits towards a bachelor’s degree that they started but never completed, while the experienced worker might be interested in enrolling in a graduate degree program, such as an MBA.
For this reason, personalized learning has become a popular approach among L&D professionals in recent years. An example of this is leveraging a strategic workforce education program to develop custom learning paths. This approach takes into consideration an individual’s previous experience and academic background and aligns that with specific credentials and learning options that help that employees upskill/reskill to reach the next level in their career.
L&D initiatives that accommodate these varied goals will boost interest and engagement in your learning programs.
Make learning and development accessible
Many traditional L&D programs use outdated methodologies that fall short for employee learners. For example, tuition reimbursement or assistance programs, long a staple of L&D, yield just 2 percent employee engagement. These programs typically require in-person learning and, perhaps even more problematic, require tuition to be paid upfront by the learner and reimbursed only after the credential is completed. Without sufficient savings on hand, employees might find education inaccessible, even for those greatly interested in taking the next step.
This is why organizations should seek to remove these barriers to engagement.
Besides career personas and other demographic variables, you can also use generational differences as a tool to inform the learning programs you offer to support the myriad needs of your multigenerational workforce:
- Replace tuition reimbursement with a direct-bill workforce education program
- Train people managers on how to best guide direct reports that might be new to workplace learning
- Develop training for those less technologically experienced
- Offer a wide breadth of courses and degree plans to help every generation of employees to advance toward their career goals.
Use technology to bridge generational gaps
Many traditional L&D programs fail to make adequate use of contemporary technologies. This means that the strengths of the digital-native generations aren’t being engaged effectively, and older generations might miss out on valuable upskilling.
Whatever your approach, effective L&D uses a variety of technologies, learning options and delivery methods that allow employees of different ages to learn in a way that’s accessible and flexible enough to integrate into their day-to-day lives.
Supporting a multigenerational workplace
Supporting the advancement of a multigenerational workforce
When it comes to workplace DEI, age is often overlooked. But the reality is that age differences in the workplace play an equally critical component as gender, race and other factors. As a people leader, it’s critically important to understand the needs of your multigenerational workforce and optimize your L&D strategy with these insights in mind. Doing so ensures you’re developing programs that enable your employees and your business to move forward.
Ready to learn more about workforce education and DEI? Download this guide to take a deeper dive into how investing in employee education can help fuel your workplace DEI strategy.