For the first time in decades we have five generations in the workforce – with this, differences and struggles between team members have become unavoidable. Core and work values; methods of communication; expectations of feedback and the ways in which people work all differ between the Veterans and Gen-Z. This is inevitable, but creating a cohesive working and learning environment that incorporates all ages is not the impossible feat it may seem.
We spoke to our Head of Learning Kirsty Mac to find out how technology can be a binder of generations rather than a tool for division.
“We’ve got a minimum of four generations in our organisation now and I think that that has been seen as more of a challenge than a possibility. I think there’s a really, negative narrative that still exists around Millennials. That they have low attention spans for example. There is a lot of thought about how to retain Millennials, but I find that a lot of the Baby-boomer generation are questioning “Well what about us? No one is thinking about how to retain us, no one’s thinking about how to crystallise our knowledge and our institutional experience” and I think that there needs to be a strategy for all generations.”
Research suggests that the strategy needed is to flip the current methods of mentoring on their head. Previously we have known the older generations to guide and coach younger generations entering the workforce, as experience gets passed onto newer employees. With technology now prevalent in all industries, the knowledge of digital is greater in the generations that have grown up with it. It stands to reason that instead of an age-based, hierarchy of mentoring, modern work-forces would be better suited to having a more lateral approach to mentoring. With different demographics offering their knowledge and experience from within different areas of a business– instead of from top-to-bottom, making it a more level playing field.
This would open-up a fresh narrative surrounding generational differences. Allowing those with a greater digital understanding to teach those without, adding value to their position, and those with practical experience to pass on that knowledge, sustaining the value that they bring to an organisation.
“There are a lot of perceptions and misconceptions. It’s a real paradox of ‘How do you accommodate all generations without compartmentalising? This will be for the Millennials and this is for the Baby-boomers’ because the common denominator is that we are all human and we are all in the same environment. It’s about working with learning strategies that work with the common denominators.”
With training and development strategies, it is advantageous to introduce them through different channels. For instance email is the preferred choice of Baby-boomers whereas video chats or voice memos are preferred by Millennials. Internal communications can be both tailored to and inclusive to all generations, while still maintaining equilibrium amongst the workforce.
Of course, the end goal is to create unison amongst the generations, but to do that an organisation or learning environment needs to offer different channels.
“An ecosystem of learning is really, important. There needs to be a facility where people can have face-to-face workshops, because there are a lot of organisations that are saying “Well we will just put it all online.” You can’t put everything online… well you could, but it’s not going to have the same impact. I think that we have to be savvier about how we put things online, so that we have an ecosystem that is face-to-face, where there are webinars, podcasts, apps; so that we have a myriad of things that meet people where they’re at but also that it’s not just for set generations. That’s a narrative and a perception that we need to move away from.”