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Bridging the Generation Gap: Promoting L&D Across Multigenerational Teams

This isn’t a new revelation: the job of a learning and development (L&D) manager is tough.

One of the most difficult aspects of the job is catering to different working styles, learning preferences, and skill sets. All three of those things can be impacted by the age and demographic of your workforce.

Today’s teams are more diverse than ever—companies can have up to five generations working together. 

The question is: how do you implement effective L&D programs that meet your learning objectives, help employees digest information in their preferred learning style, and build a learning culture that improves employee engagement? 

Read on to discover the answers.

What is a multigenerational workforce?

A multigenerational workforce is a group of employees that span different age groups. 

Because younger people are entering the workplace and the average retirement age is increasing, modern organizations can have up to five generations working at a single company. 

We can break these people into the following demographic groups: 

  • Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012)
  • Millennials (born 1981 to 1996)
  • Gen X (born 1965 to 1980)
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964)
  • Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945)

This is set to change in years to come as Generation Alpha, a new wave of younger workers born between 2010 and 2025, replaces the Silent Generation as they head into retirement.

Studies have found that around 51 million people in the U.S. fall within the Generation Alpha demographic. These workers will be more driven by remote work, flexibility, and work-life balance than ever before, which presents even more challenges for multigenerational workforces in years to come.

The benefits of a multigenerational workforce

There are a plethora of benefits attached to having a diverse workforce, particularly if the age of your employees spans multiple generations. 

  • Creativity. People across different generations have different life experiences—it’s this history we pull on to make decisions, generate new ideas, and solve problems. As a result, workforces with broader generational diversity tend to have more creative teams. 
  • Knowledge sharing. Life and workplace experiences build our individual knowledge, so it makes sense that people across different generations can benefit from pooling their expertise. This can contribute to a more positive employee experience since colleagues don’t have to research independently; they can collaborate with their team. 
  • A broader pool of talent to choose from. There’s a finite amount of talent if you restrict your employee search to people within a specific demographic. By broadening your horizons and interviewing potential candidates from different age groups, you’ll find the best candidate from the entire market—not just the best Gen Zer or Baby Boomer. 

Challenges of a multigenerational workforce

Despite the advantages of a multigenerational team, there are some downsides to managing employees across different age ranges:

  • Technology divide. It’s easy to forget that technology didn’t begin to advance until the turn of the 20th century. Some older generations had decades of working experience before this time, which could make it more difficult for them to get to grips with new technology. 
  • Conflict resolution. Generally speaking, there are generational differences in the way people handle conflict. Older generations might prefer to hash things out face-to-face. Younger generations, on the other hand, have grown up with instant virtual messaging. They may feel more comfortable having difficult conversations over the phone. Neither group is wrong, but getting them working in harmony takes a little more effort. 
  • Employee needs and values. Older workers might get more job satisfaction from discussing pensions and retirement plans. Younger employees might have more money out of their paycheck to spend monthly, whereas Millennials might want parental leave from the benefits package. 

Read more: Employee Wellness Programs: Boosting Productivity & Happiness

How to manage L&D initiatives for a multigenerational workforce

Managing a multigenerational workforce poses problems for L&D managers. You want all employees to get value from the training you’re providing. 

Here’s how to do that: 

  1. Invest in diversity and inclusion training
  2. Understand your employees’ existing skill sets
  3. Assess learning preferences
  4. Arrange reverse mentorship opportunities
  5. Invite colleagues to author training materials 

1. Invest in diversity and inclusion training

Everyone has a right to safety at work. Compliance training often touches on topics such as diversity and inclusion, but to truly make employees of all ages feel comfortable in their work environment, your training initiatives need to cover things like: 

  • What age discrimination looks like
  • How to report ageism 
  • The potential harm of letting demographic stereotypes go unchallenged—like how ageism can affect someone’s well-being 

More importantly, be cautious about your messaging throughout your training materials and question your bias. A truly inclusive workplace is built through teamwork. Ignoring a colleague or subconsciously referring to older generations as old-fashioned can do more harm than good—even if there was no ill intent behind their statement. 

Zarina Bahadur, founder and CEO of 123 Baby Box, adds: “One key aspect of my leadership style in this environment is promoting mutual respect and learning. 

“I organize regular team-building activities and workshops that allow different generations to share their skills and experiences,” Zarina adds. “It helps in breaking down stereotypes and builds a cohesive team. Adjusting to each age group’s needs and preferences is an ongoing learning process, but it’s incredibly rewarding. The synergy created by this diverse team is definitely worth the effort.”

2. Understand your employees’ existing skill sets

Nudging your team members through a blanket training program results in lower employee engagement. 

L&D isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; the most effective professional development plans are personalized to cover an individual’s skill gaps, previous experience, and career goals. Either three of those variables can be influenced by age. 

For example, older employees with more life experience might feel more confident with problem-solving and decision-making, whereas younger team members perhaps feel more comfortable with technology. Both colleagues have something to learn from each other. 

As part of your L&D program, find skills gaps that future training could cover for specific demographics. You could do that using:

  • Feedback from employees in their personal development meetings 
  • Learner scores from your learning management system (LMS)

Once you’ve got this information, use it to create personalized training programs. 

WorkRamp’s employee training software can even build learning paths for each demographic, so you can take a more proactive approach and provide new hires with the training they need—before they ask for it. 

Read more: The Indispensable Power of Personalized L&D 

3. Assess learning preferences of each generation

Not everyone absorbs information in the same way. 

Gen Zers, for example, are mobile-first digital natives. They’ve grown up in the social media era, so they tend to be more tech-savvy. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, might prefer face-to-face or in-person discussions.

Both approaches are completely different and valid. So, the question is: how can you possibly design training materials that cater to all working styles? 

Multimodal learning is a training program that includes various content types—such as audio, video, written text, and role-playing simulations—in a single training program. Combine this with blended learning, which merges in-person learning with virtual training experiences, to cater to employees across all demographics. 

Don’t feel discouraged if you’d like to expand the types of eLearning content you offer, but resources are a constraint. Repurpose the content you’ve already got—like uploading the transcript for your podcast—and store it in WorkRamp, ready for learners to digest information in their preferred communication styles. 

4. Plan reverse mentorship sessions

One of the biggest advantages of a diverse workforce is the plethora of learning opportunities from multigenerational teams. The challenge, however, is teamwork between groups. People of similar ages tend to stick together. So, if you’re struggling to get people of different ages working together, mentoring sessions could get people collaborating. 

Think about each employee’s skill set and how they can teach team members in another demographic. For instance, Gen Zers could mentor older team members on using technology; Gen Xers can share a professional disaster they’ve experienced and how it made them more resilient. 

5. Invite colleagues to author training materials

Feedback should be a regular part of your L&D strategy. This is especially true if you’re training multigenerational teams. There’s a small chance that you could unintentionally alienate people from L&D with a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Learner retention and information recall are two things to test. If you have an end-of-module quiz inside WorkRamp, for example, you might find that older people have higher information retention scores than younger ones. This means your training program is not fit for purpose. 

Instead of quizzing yourself and trying to think of the answers, assemble employee resource groups to make training materials more inclusive. Representatives from each demographic can help you create training programs—even co-creating and authoring materials to build a learning culture that makes employees want to learn. 

Manage employees of all ages with the Learning Cloud

Managing today’s workforce is no small feat. With employees spanning different demographics and age ranges, you need to make a conscious effort to make everyone feel included and navigate the challenges of a multigenerational workforce.

The right tools—particularly a learning management system—can make a world of difference. With the Learning Cloud from WorkRamp, you can:

  • Create personalized learning paths based on employees’ skill levels and experience
  • Upload a range of different training materials and formats in your LMS
  • Co-create training materials with your colleagues 
  • Monitor in-depth feedback to track learning progress 

If you’re training employees, you need WorkRamp’s All-in-One LMS. Contact us to schedule a free personalized demo today

Complete the form for a custom demo.

Elise Dopson

WorkRamp Contributor

Elise Dopson is a freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies. She’s also the co-founder of Peak Freelance and mom to an adorable Spaniel pup.

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