We are now in an unprecedented situation of having 5 very different generations mixed into our workforces.
The trend for delaying retirement is also growing as people expect healthier and longer lives.
The older generations are far from putting their learning years behind them, as some may have expected.
And the perceived gap between these generations is not as wide as it may seem. The smallness of this gap was recently illustrated by a study by the global learning and talent management company Skillsoft.
Until now, it has been easy for us to believe that Generation Z and younger millennials, who’ve grown up with information at their fingertips, are more able to learn than their older counterparts.
Many companies are focusing their development budget on the younger generations, yet these modern methods of learning are also totally relevant to older employees too.
The Skillsoft study found that our beliefs about certain generations of employees are out of sync with how employees of all ages prefer to learn.
For example, they found that we commonly believe millennials prefer learning content delivered via video rather than through reading, but in fact all generations see digital books as an important part of the learning experience.
Millennials who took part in the study also showed a need for printed handouts to underpin learning concepts.
Lack of scientific evidence of any generational gap?
The belief that millennials have such different learning needs to other generations isn’t really supported by any real scientific data.
In fact, the main researcher of the report, Kieran King VP, Global Enablement, Customer Insight & Field Marketing at Skillsoft, believes it’s quite the opposite.
“Many of the negative millennial stereotypes are not rooted in solid research so they fail to hold up to scrutiny, leading to a number of misconceptions.”
King also highlighted that IBM, CNBC and Harvard Business Review have all reported the same insight — current ‘knowledge’ is in fact based on misconceptions.
“Too much of the collective understanding regarding millennials is based on anecdotes and assumptions that are neither accurate, nor useful to HR,” King said.
“When you think about it, how could it be plausible that over 80 million people across global boundaries embody the same characteristics? That just doesn’t make sense.”
Generational gaps delusions?
King, gave some insights as to what could be driving these misconceptions.
“For years, the media has popularised stereotypes that millennials have dramatically different values, needs and preferences than other working generations.
This has compelled many HR teams to address millennials almost as if they were a unique species,” King added.
“The real insight is that millennials are not driving changes in HR. Rather, it is the accelerated pace of work, our consumer experiences and the pervasiveness of technology affecting all generations that is driving the need for change.”
What can HR do to improve learning for all generations?
After first dispelling any myths about multi-generational learning gaps, human resources can focus creating more results-driven professional development programs.
King recommends having corporate learning embedded into every employee’s experience, and incorporating learner-centric content with multiple modalities that are mobile and on-demand.
In summary, then, human resources can stop treating multi-generational employees as though they’re hugely different from each other and can instead focus on more prevalent differences within the workforce such as behavioural diversity and motivational needs.
HR can then develop their learning content so they can tailor it to individual behavioural preferences and cater to all learner styles, regardless of generation.
This unified approach to learning development can help bridge any perceived gaps in professional development.
What has your experience been of generational gaps within the workforce? Please leave your comments below, we’d love to hear your thoughts.