Dear Leader, How Do Your Generations Grow?

Corporate engagement and benefits surveys show that employees, regardless of age, value opportunities for development. For long-term motivation and satisfaction,  learning something new trumps pay most every time.

Where the generations differ is the reason why they want to learn.  Leaders can increase their training and development ROI by targeting these unique needs.

Traditionalists, the oldest generation in the workforce, wish to leave a legacy.  Many have long-term careers with a company and they want to make a lasting contribution.  Therefore, develop the Traditionalist employee’s training, coaching and mentoring skills.   This will help them successfully transfer their knowledge and wisdom to younger workers.  You can also use this as an occasion for recognizing and honoring their years of hard work.

Baby Boomers were raised in prosperous times with parents able to give them the “good life.”  The quest for the best created the Me Generation and the value of self-improvement was born.  In the workplace, this translates into exploring new ways to grow and be.  Ask them about projects they are interested in and new roles they’d like to pursue.  Boomers relish challenge so don’t be afraid to stretch them. 

Generation X grew up in an era that endured double-digit inflation, unprecedented lay-offs and the highest divorce rates in history.  As latch-key kids, they learned to be independent at an early age.  In the workplace, this means they rely on their own resourcefulness to survive.  They are the first generation to self-manage their careers, looking for new skills that can be leveraged in the free market.  Offer Generation X staff opportunities for career advancement in whatever pathways your company offers – management, technical or professional.  A lateral move that offers marketable skills can be equally enticing as an upward promotion. 

Generation Y, also known as Millennials, are born learners.  Their enlightened Baby Boomer parents have been teaching them since conception!  Their access to knowledge has been instantaneous and it fuels their curiosity.  To work means to learn so when there is no more learning at your company, they will move on.  Create a learning plan with your Generation Y employees.  Make it dynamic with a variety of ways to learn – online, on-the-job, in the classroom, via self-discovery or through team projects.   Rotate them through departments and positions.  Connect them with a Traditionalist mentor and make development a cross-generational experience. 

Julie Berg is President and Principal Consultant with the St. Paul firm, HRD Consulting,  a provider of leadership training services and coaching for professionals.  Learn more at

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