Multi-Generational Learning in the Workplace

The workforce now spans four different generations for the first time in history.

A growing number of seniors are working longer, while millennials, the newest generation to join the workforce, are just starting their careers. The multi-generational workforce is creating a complex work environment where employees’ behavior, motivations and expectations are vastly different. Currently, those generations include Traditionalists (1922-45), Baby Boomers (1946-64), Gen X (1965-80) and Millennials (1981-2000), according to a 2014 article by the Society for Human Resource Management.

To manage a workforce of varying ages, organizations must help employees understand each other and not dismiss each other as stereotypes. Creating multi-generational learning and development programs can help boost morale, engagement and performance.

Multi-Generational Learning Success

Multi-generational learning brings employees of different generations together to collaborate, grow and learn from one another. Programs like reverse mentoring and job shadowing can leverage the skills and knowledge of workers across generations.

Former GE CEO Jack Welch is widely known to have championed reverse mentoring back in 1999 when he required 500 top executives to pair up with junior workers to learn how to use the internet.

Today, major organizations including Microsoft, Xerox and IBM have rolled out reverse mentoring programs, pairing experienced employees with junior staffers and new hires who are eager to learn. These programs accomplish several things: knowledge sharing among all generations, boosting confidence in new, younger employees, and allowing older workers to learn about the latest technology tools that can be used to help improve business processes or outcomes.

Examples of Multi-Generational Learning

Reverse mentoring is just one of five examples shared by The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Other examples include the following:

Career Pathing – Different generations may have different views of career pathing. Older generations may assume there is a corporate “ladder” that must be climbed to move up, while younger workers believe they can make more agile leaps, depending on skillset and business needs. HR departments can clear up any confusion by creating career paths that set expectations for each position within the company. Additionally, new hires or veteran employees can be connected with colleagues to form a mentorship program based on the career paths of individual employees.

Job Shadowing and Job Rotating – Nearly all employees can benefit from learning more about what their colleagues do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, and how it potentially affects their job and the business. Implementing a formal or informal job shadowing/rotating program allows employees to share their processes and responsibilities with others, as well as learn how to work with a new manager or team.

Team-Building – Hosting team-building events can help bring people together, learn from one another and ultimately become more comfortable talking to each other. This can be done by volunteering together, participating in a fundraiser or even hosting a friendly competition like relay races or trivia challenges.

Project Teams – Creating cross-functional teams for special projects can help bring together employees who seldom work together to solve problems and overcome business challenges. In doing so, people of all generations can work together and become more comfortable about speaking up and asking for help from fellow workers.

Implementing multi-generational programs can help with a variety of workplace challenges, including overcoming biases and negative stereotypes toward other generations. While older workers may perceive millennials as entitled and lacking in loyalty, millennials may think previous generations are not open to change or difficult to train.

As the workforce continues to change, with Gen Z expected to join within the next couple of years, it’s imperative that employers foster collaboration by breaking down barriers and connecting workers of all ages together to continue learning from one another.

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