Today’s workforce is a multigenerational collection of individuals who have grown together as a result of many years of expansion, attrition, consolidation, and new hiring policies. This assimilation of many generations — and many perspectives — under a single roof can often pose organizational, managerial, and instructional challenges. Unless these complications are recognized and addressed, those gaps can create a communications stumbling block that impedes a company’s or an organization’s long-term success.
The best way to address this in terms of workplace education is through a cross-generational training strategy. However, prior to designing your strategy, it is important to recognize the specific nature of the challenges that lie ahead.
Recognizing the Divide
Many families are multi-generational in their formation, and many people can testify to the tensions and stresses that this arrangement can bring. If you’ve ever had to juggle the personalities and opinions of a wide array of relatives at a holiday party, imagine doing the same at a large corporation, where the volume, scope, and network effects of these challenges are magnified 10 or even 100-fold!
The Center for Generational Kinetics defines the make-up of various generations as follows:
- iGen, Gen Z, or Centennials (also called Post-Millennials) — born 1996 and later
- Millennials or Gen Y — born 1977 to 1995
- Generation X (or Gen-Xers) — born 1965 to 1976
- Baby Boomers — born 1946 to 1964
- Traditionalists or Silent Generation — born 1945 and before
Few Traditionalists are still active in the workforce today, but many organizations have Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials and even Post-Millennials in their ranks. A 2015 Pew Research Center study shows that while the percentage of working Baby Boomers (29%) and Gen Xers (34%) continues to decline, more and more Millennials (34%) and Post-Millennials (1%) are taking their place.
While everyone is an individual with his or her own personality, perspective, and preferences, each generation is also broadly characterized by a unique set of core workforce “peculiarities” that are often a product of the cultural and societal norms that were popular during each era’s career ascent. Instructional designers must take these audience attributes into consideration when designing training modules. Some of the factors and user perceptions that need to be considered in any training program include:
- loyalty to the organization
- aversion to change
- work-life balance
- embracing technology
- disregard for formality
- loyalty to self
- “lone wolf” preferences
When you have a multi-generational group working together, each with characteristics that may contradict one another, you may have one or more gaps between what each sub-demographic thinks of as “normal” or “best practices.” As instructional designers, you need to find a way to bridge these gaps to ensure that all generations will find your training meaningful and engaging — or they may disregard your lessons as being illogical, irrelevant, or out of touch.
Training to Build the Bridge
While many current corporate leaders are members of the Boomer and Gen-X populations, the seismic shift on the horizon now that Millennials have become the largest segment of the workforce makes it imperative for the workforce at all levels to be exposed to training that helps them interact with and better understand their cross-generational co-workers.
The sooner any such gaps in your organization’s workplace personae are recognized, the faster you can start building suitable training strategies to help your organization cope with the challenges these “generation gaps” will pose. Here are some best practices suggested by nationally-renowned Employee Assistance Program providers Carebridge:
- Train your leaders to be aware of the preferred work and communication styles of each of the generations.
- Teach them to communicate in ways that each target generation understands.
- Coach them to understand how to provide and receive feedback based on the unique expectations of each of the generations.
- Prepare them to appreciate how each of the generations perceive and value work/life balance.
- Equip them to deal with inter-generational conflict.
It is important to realize that bridging this gap isn’t the responsibility of any single generation or person in the workforce; therefore, your training shouldn’t be restricted to a single segment of a company’s employees.
Instructional Design Practices for Multiple Generations
While it is nearly impossible to meet the needs of all learners in just one training program, instructional designers should keep each generation’s preferences and habits in mind so the media you create feels vital and relevant.
For example, most Millennials prefer interactive eLearning experiences to being “talked at.” They also enjoy collaboration, which can be easily encouraged by incorporating a wiki or a Facebook page designed specifically to support the course. Additionally, as you design your courses for younger audiences, note that both Millennials and Gen Z learners don’t like to be told information they already know and they don’t like the formality of rote repetition. Much like using Google to answer a question as it comes up in real time, these generations just want to know what they need to know now. Also, when a younger generation signs up for training, they may expect that the same course will be available in both the eLearning and mLearning formats.
However, even in cases where most learners are from younger generations, you must also keep older generations in mind. Gen-Xers, Boomers, and Traditionalists often prefer learning through more direct methods like lectures, and many of them feel that gamification and interactivity are simply a waste of their time.
So, how can you make everyone happy?
One approach is to provide multiple media resources that cover the same information — like offering a PDF file which includes all the vital information that’s found in your interactive exercises, so users who prefer reading to problem-solving can still download the core concepts.
Another approach would be to create two different versions of your course: one that’s interactive and one that’s passive. This option could be complicated, expensive, and time-consuming, so if you feel this approach would work best for your audience, be sure to plan ahead for this process. (Luckily, CourseArc allows you to create variations and templates of your digital courses, which can save you lots of time, resources, and headaches! You can see all of CourseArc’s sanity-saving features here.)
Each generation brings its own unique set of skills and values to the workforce. Older workers often have deep enterprise knowledge and experience and value loyalty and structure, while younger employees value the innovation and tech savvy that will lead your company into the next century. By creating a broad-based multi-generational training strategy, you can build bridges across the generation gaps in your workforce that allow you to bring out the best in every employee.