HomeEmployee ExperienceEngagementEmployee EngagementFutureproofing talent: Onboarding a multi-generational workforce

Futureproofing talent: Onboarding a multi-generational workforce

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L&D expert Carrie Missele sets out a framework for onboarding and engaging a multi-generational workforce in a highly competitive talent market.

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You’re probably well aware of the sea change that’s upending the traditional workplace structure. Exacerbated by the pandemic and the opportunity for many to work from anywhere, the new workplace has positively affected how we view company culture and approach onboarding, elevating it into something more than a one-day initiative. Gone is the old one-size-fits-all approach. In today’s highly competitive talent market, organizations must customize the onboarding experience so that it addresses individual needs based on age and outlook, interests, and career growth.

Multi-generational workplace

A major shift in worker demographics and psychographics indicate that companies tailor their onboarding to meet generational needs. That is because, for the first time in history, there are five generations working side by side. Employees in their 20s and 30s may have different behaviors and attitudes about work from someone in their 40s, 50s or 60s, who, in lieu of retiring, may be deciding to work longer. Gen Zers are often more tech and social media-oriented while Baby Boomers may be less tech savvy and more comfortable with traditional communication methods.

Although your organization might not be onboarding multiple generations in one talent class, you’ll want to make sure all bases are covered to make every new staff member feel welcome and in high regard.

Changing traditional mindsets

Effective HR leadership involves reviewing current data, providing direction, inspiration, and guidance. Strong HR leaders exhibit courage, passion, confidence, commitment, ambition, and the ability to change both mindsets and policy.

HR leaders can start the process by initiating a conversation with the HR team about their hiring practices (is the company consciously hiring people of all ages and genders?) and introducing the idea of change. What are their attitudes? Do they possess the right skills and resources to address the issues of a changing, multi-generational workforce? If not, how can you get them to embrace a culture change and updates to traditional HR practices?

To evaluate how your HR team thinks about change and transformation, try the following exercise. Think of a prominent stadium or building in your town or city.  Imagine there’s a new owner and they’ve just announced the building’s new name.  What is your reaction? Is it excitement, such as: “Great! This new owner will tackle much-needed updates and upgrades to create a better experience for all of us.” Is it indifference, such as: “Meh, it doesn’t affect me.” Is it denial? “No way, I refuse to refer to the building as anything other than its former name!”  

If your answer falls in the first or second category, or is some combination of the two, you appear to be comfortable with evolving what onboarding should look like today. On the contrary, if your answer more closely resembles the third option, that should be cause for concern. By ignoring the data and pushing back to acknowledge a new name of a building, you’re essentially refusing to grow and change, failing to accept and adapt, and unable to recognize when a prime business opportunity arises. When leading a workforce of multiple generations, recognizing the need to accept change and adapt to it can serve you well.  You’ll pay attention to the characteristics of each generation and institute programs and best practices that meet the many needs of your people.

Millennials rising, Boomers staying on

Paying close attention to the changing demographics and psychographics of each generation will be critical in creating a multi-generational onboarding strategy.

It used to be that people followed a three-step life plan:

1. Get educated
2. Work
3. Retire

But this old model is rapidly becoming obsolete. By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of Millennials.  So, what do they need to feel welcome and validated in their decision to join your organization?

Because of their profile, Millennial-focused onboarding initiatives should include the opportunity for socializing and interpersonal engagement. Here’s a simple and effective icebreaker: split new hires into pairs, asking them to learn something about the other person and then share with the group what they learned.

Conscientious Millennials are seeking more work-life balance and to be measured on the results of their efforts, not just optics or how many hours they are tethered to a desk. Assignments with specific parameters and deadlines are most apropos. They’ll demonstrate their skill in prioritizing and meeting deadlines.

Millennials also appreciate immediate feedback, so don’t hesitate to tell them they’re doing a great job, or to share examples of where they can improve in a constructive manner.

By 2028, Gen Xers will outnumber Baby Boomers. And they, along with their Gen Z colleagues, value opportunities for personal development.

40% of Generation Z employees want to interact with their boss at least once a day. How will that affect onboarding?  Why not set up a reverse mentoring program, where the Gen Z new hire can engage with their manager in a series of meaningful ways. Encourage the Gen Z employee to be creative and self-driven by letting them take the lead in planning the opportunities to connect.

Today, it’s projected that 65% of Baby Boomers plan to work past age 65. To help them feel welcome and inspired to give their best, consider pairing them with a younger colleague. They can connect in a way that reinforces the value their experience and “seasoning” brings to the organization and open their eyes to the diverse talent of the younger group.


Carrie Missele is Practice Lead, Learning and Development at Inspirant Group. You can reach her through LinkedIn.

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