Onboarding a multi-generational workforce

Posted in Talent & Onboarding

For the first time in history, we are experiencing a never-before-seen generational diversity in the workplace with five very distinctive groups connecting and collaborating, each with its own communication and socialization preferences, skills, and priorities. The silent generation (Baby Boomers and Gen X) are leading from the top with most of the senior leadership roles. They are followed by Millennials, who are getting ready to become the next generation of leaders, and Gen Z, who have just recently entered the workforce with a new perspective.

The reality of this multi-generational workforce is that it has unveiled a set of differences in working philosophies, ethics, and patterns that are rapidly transforming the dynamics of the economy. It’s no wonder that many organisations are trying to figure out the best way to learn, understand, and take advantage of the shortcomings and opportunities each generation has to contribute.

So, what do you need to consider when designing your onboarding strategy to ensure you recognize and meet the needs of each individual generational group?

1. Employees are people with specific needs and expectations in regards to their particular age group. It’s important to understand some of the main generational traits, but keep in mind that these will only serve as a guide. Your main goal should always be to design a strategy focused on the individual needs of your employees.

2. Strong communication should be the centrepiece of your onboarding strategy. Open multiple channels and integrate all of your communication tools. Some of the younger generations might prefer digital social messaging and interactive content, while older generations might prefer one-on-one, phone, or texting along with more traditional methods such as PowerPoint presentations and instruction booklets. Keeping this in mind will help your business connect better and communicate expectations and essential information to new hires in various ways while allowing you to listen to the opinions and needs of your workforce at the same time.

3. Foster an inclusive organisational culture. Allow opportunities for your workforce to socialize, integrate, and connect. Develop a culture based on camaraderie and collaboration while taking into consideration the differences in age, gender, and cultural backgrounds. Be open and flexible when hosting company events, and implement group activities to bring everyone closer. Key Stat: Research conducted by Columbia University found the probability of attrition in organisations with strong, inclusive, and positive cultures are 13.9% compared to 48.4% of organisations with weak cultures.

4. Hiring managers and business leaders will always be key to the success of your onboarding strategy. Their role is essential in welcoming, inspiring, and guiding new employees – not only on their first day, but throughout their whole employment lifecycle as well. Their engagement is essential in delivering an outstanding onboarding experience. Key Stat: According to research conducted by Randall Beck and Jim Harter in 2014, hiring managers are responsible for at least 70 percent of fluctuation in employee engagement scores, retention, and productivity.

Here are some generational insights to keep in mind when designing your onboarding.

BABY BOOMERS – born 1946 to mid-1960s (Ages: 50-70)

  • Appreciate a definite process. Make sure you communicate expectations clearly because they are goal-oriented.
  • Place a high importance in hierarchies. Being welcomed by more senior leaders plays an important role.
  • Have a strong preference for face-to-face meetings instead of emails.
  • Recognition is a source of motivation and engagement.
  • Are good in mentorship positions.
  • Have more traditional values and expect respect from their colleagues.

GEN X – born mid-1960s to early 1980s (Ages: 35-49)

  • Value social media almost as much as Millennials.
  • Appreciate stability, recognition and reward.
  • Value face-to-face communication but are also open to digital interactions.
  • Dislike being micromanaged.
  • Prefer horizontal organisations.
  • Can get overwhelmed by emerging communication platforms and prefer more traditional ones.
  • Prefer self-guided training processes.
  • Are comfortable with traditional onboarding practices but open to new approaches.
  • Want to be mentors and see themselves as teachers.

MILLENNIALS / GEN Y –  born early-1980s to mid-1990s (Ages: 20-34)

  • Value authenticity and innovation.
  • Believe in socialisation and inclusion.
  • Tech savvy and comfortable engaging via digital platforms.
  • Are looking for meaning in their workplace.
  • More inclined to be loyal to organisations that believe in and nurture them.
  • Traditional onboarding practices are not well received by this generation.
  • Value gamification and collaboration.
  • Value flexibility, creativity, and make work fun.
  • Prefer flat hierarchies.
  • Value their managers as mentors.
  • Are eager to learn and appreciate feedback

GEN Z, iGEN, and CENTENNIALS – 1996 to the present (Ages: below 20)

  • Prefer laidback and short communication styles.
  • Digital natives, so they adapt very quickly to emerging communication platforms.
  • Expect quick and easy-to-access information which they prefer to consume on small screens.
  • Instant gratification is the norm, so gamification can play an important role in their learning journey.
  • Are open-minded to diversity and new experiences.
  • Are in the process of learning workplace etiquette.


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