multigenerational workforce

Age is Just a Number: How Peer-to-Peer Learning Can Strengthen a Multigenerational Workforce

Companies today face a multigenerational workforce that spans up to four generations. It’s not uncommon for a fresh-out-of-college millennial to join a company that has workers with 30 or more years of experience. Each generation brings its own values, skillsets, and contributions to the office. In theory, this diversity should be a strength, but sometimes it’s hard to get our team members to see past their differences and work together.

As managers, it’s our job to find a way to unite workers with distinct generational characteristics. A team that has the enthusiasm of a Millennial and the experience of a Baby Boomer would be unstoppable. But even though we all felt very warm and fuzzy when we watched Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway set aside their differences and learn to rely on each other when we saw The Intern last year, managing a multigenerational workforce with Boomers and Millennials presents real challenges. If you’re looking for solutions to those problems, you may want to consider implementing a few peer-to-peer learning programs at work.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

The basic idea behind peer-to-peer learning is to allow team members to teach each other. This gives employees an opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise, and it gives your team a chance to learn from one another and increase rapport. Projectmanagement.com wrote about peer-to-peer learning, calling it a great tool for team-building. By allowing team members to teach each other about their strengths, you may find that your team will begin to naturally develop a greater understanding and respect for one another.

There are many ways to implement a peer-to-peer learning program in your office. At my workplace, we have lunch-based trainings every two weeks. These trainings give everyone in the office a chance to get together and enjoy some takeout while we listen to a short presentation from one of our peers. These trainings have not only helped people from different departments get to know each other, but they’ve fostered an appreciation for individuals and their contributions to the company. Sharlyn Lauby from hrbartender.com also suggests that companies can implement feedback, mentoring, and coaching programs to encourage peer-to-peer learning.

But, how can peer-to-peer learning help bridge that gap between different generations in your workplace? In order to start creating an environment where multigenerational employees can learn from one another, managers should spend some time becoming familiar with the generations that make up their multigenerational workforce.

The Generation Gap

Baby Boomers were born between the end of World War II and the mid ‘60s. They have years of work experience that’s given them a strong work ethic and they like being given respect for paying their dues. Gen X workers like freedom and being self-directed. They have a pragmatic attitude in the workplace and they want to do things their own way. Millennials are the youngest in the workplace, but they want to make a difference with their work and receive recognition. They are the most tech savvy of the group, they are always connected, and they expect new technology at work and during employee onboarding. They are motivated by clear paths and expectations, and are up for collaboration.

According to a report issued by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Baby Boomers generally prefer to work individually rather than on a team and are increasingly putting more of an emphasis on work/life balance. Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely to seek fulfillment of social needs at work. The CIPD report goes on to say that, “many [Millennials] actively seek an employer where they can be part of a team, have fun, and make friends within the workplace. Although they see time for friends and family as important, they trade off putting in the hours and socialize with the team of people around them.” Both Millennials and Baby Boomers are hard workers and report that they’re more likely to feel engaged in the workplace if they have challenging work.

Even though studies show that Millennials and Boomers have many of the same goals, their workstyles can vary significantly. Perhaps it’s for this reason that these two generations most famously lock horns. Earlier this September, one of the trending hashtags on Twitter, #howtoconfuseamillenial, gave Boomers and Millennials another opportunity to sling mud at each other on social media. Boomers like to call Millennials dumb and entitled, while Millennials are likely to see Boomers as old fashioned and out of touch.

A Cohesive Multigenerational Workforce

multigenerational workforce

Even though this kind of animosity can be fun to watch play out on social media, it is a real problem in the workplace where more often than not, Millennials and Boomers have to work together. It’s our job as managers and leaders to get the members of our team to see eye-to-eye in spite of their respective ages. If we can do this, we can foster an environment that is not only more healthy for everyone, but more productive. And perhaps the most effective way to do this is to give your employees an opportunity to appreciate each other by enacting peer-to-peer learning strategies. Undoubtedly, each member of your team has different strengths and qualities you admire, and allowing them to showcase those qualities will help other team members see those strengths in each other.

Perhaps the most important thing you and your team can learn about each other is that age is just a number. Take the time to get to know every member of your team and learn what motivates them, not as Millennials or Boomers, but as individuals.  It’s true that we are all shaped and influenced by the political and economic realities of our youth, but it’s also true that no one person’s experience of those events is the same. Everyone in your multigenerational workforce is unique, and understanding them on a personal level is likely the best way to begin collaborating.

Blake Beus is a Director of Learning Solutions with extensive experience in healthcare and financial services. What Blake enjoys most about his role at Allen is helping organizations implement initiatives that have a real impact on the business.

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