Today’s Multigenerational Workforce
The workforce of today is a multi-generational collection of people who come together out of a variety of needs and motivations. The result of years of expansions, merging, divesting, consolidation, and evolving hiring policies, today’s multi-generational talent pool has arisen to produce significantly different workforces than we have ever experienced in the past.
The assimilation of many different generations under a single company banner creates significant organizational, managerial, and instructional challenges. Unless these complications are recognized and addressed, gaps between generations can create obstacles to communication that will impede an organization’s long-term success.
Understanding the Separations
Scholars have identified and labeled the make-up of various generations present in the workforce today:
- Generation Z, or Centennials (aka Post-Millennials) — born 1995 and later
- Generation Y, or Millennials — born 1981 to 2000
- Generation X (or Gen-Xers) — born 1965 to 1980
- Baby Boomers — born 1946 to 1964
- Traditionalists or the Silent Generation — born 1945 and before
While few Traditionalists are still active in the workforce today, most organizations have Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials, and Post-Millennials among their ranks. Each generational group exhibits distinctly different values, work ethics, communication styles, and preferred methods for feedback, and each is saddled with their own negative stereotypes.
|The Silent Generation||Baby Boomers||Generation X||Generation Y |
|Core values||Respect for Authority Conformity|
|Questions authority |
|Feedback||No news is good news|
Pride in job well done
|Not keen on feedback||Direct|
"How am I doing?"
Work to live
Studies show that Millennials are the biggest generation in the U.S. workforce, followed closely by Generation X and then Baby Boomers. The Silent Generation represents a small and declining minority, while the youngest generation – Generation Z – is just now beginning to enter the workforce and their numbers will steadily climb. Today’s workforce has the potential to represent the widest variety of generational differences in modern history.
When an organization has a workforce spanning many different generations working together, each with characteristics that may contradict one another, one or more gaps between what each group thinks of as “normal” or “best practices” are sure to exist. Instructional designers need to find a way to bridge these gaps to ensure that all generations find training to be meaningful and engaging. Designers must leverage emerging technology to stay relevant, especially in companies that outwardly leverage cutting-edge technology. The inside must mirror the outside because an unwillingness to embrace new methods will lead to audiences disregarding training lessons as being illogical, irrelevant, or out-of-touch.
Training as a Tool
While many current corporate leaders are members of the Boomer or Gen-X population, the seismic shift on the horizon is that Millennials will soon become the largest segment of the workforce. It is therefore imperative for the entire workforce to be exposed to training that helps them interact with and understand their cross-generational co-workers.
The sooner the gaps in an organization’s workplace are recognized, the faster it can start building suitable training strategies to help cope with the challenges these generational differences pose. Some best practices have already emerged that help to bridge these gaps.
- Teach employees to communicate in ways that each target audience understands.
- Coach employees to understand how to provide and receive feedback based on the unique expectations of each generation.
- Prepare employees to appreciate how each of the generations perceives and value their own work/life balance.
- Equip employees to deal with inter-generational conflict.
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 that the media they create feels vital and relevant to anyone.
For example, most Millennials prefer interactive eLearning experiences to being “talked at” in a classroom setting. When designing courses for younger audiences, note that teaching Millennials and Gen Z information they already know will be met with resistance, and they do not 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 when they need to know it.
Even where most learners are from younger generational groups, you must keep older generations in mind. Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers, and Traditionalists often prefer learning through direct methods like classroom lectures, and many of them feel that gamification and interactivity are a waste of their time.
Each generation brings its own unique set of skills and values to the workforce. Older workers bring cultural and tribal knowledge as well as vast experience, and they value loyalty and structure. Younger employees value the innovation, personal identity, and tech-savvy that are critical to leading organizations into the next era.
By creating dynamic, multi-generational training strategies, instructional designers can overcome the challenges presented by the multi-generational workforce common in today’s workplace and create training programs that bridge generational gaps and foster teamwork and cooperation.