Terri Leubke

Managing generational differences

Photo by Michael Leschisin, Image Studios

In today’s workplace, employees across the generations interact with one another at every level. Imagine needing to educate all of those employees about safety, technical skills or personal development. It can be a tall order, but as Terri Luebke, chief learning officer for Faith Technologies in Menasha told Insight News Editor MaryBeth Matzek, it can be done – it just takes time to foster understanding – and be flexible

I was at Schneider National in corporate training and was seeing a change in the type of people coming in and applying for jobs. At the same time, we were seeing changes in the office staff and how they wanted their training. That sparked something in me after I left and began my own firm, Inspired Training Institute. I earned my master’s degree and my thesis focused on Generation X. It made me realize not only do people of different generations learn differently, they also work differently and employers need to recognize that or risk having their employees tune out. I joined Faith about 18 months ago and we’ve been doing a lot about generational diversity and sincerely tailoring the training.

When talking about the generational differences, I use the term boomer to cover people born between 1946 and 1960; Generation X are those born between 1960 and 1980; and Generation Y are those born between 1980 and 2000. These cohorts are shaped by their different experiences. For example, Generation X was really the first generation to grow up in divorced families and had both parents work, so that left an imprint on them. They are more independent, self-reliant and you give them an assignment and they just go and get it done.
For Generation Y, this is a generation that had an overscheduled childhood where parents planned everything for them and they received trophies for everything. That has created a generation that constantly seeks feedback on how they’re doing. They also enjoy working in teams more. So if you have someone from Generation X supervising someone from Generation Y, the Generation X manager can’t figure out why the Generation Y employee just doesn’t go out and get the job done. The Generation Y employee wants to collaborate first and get lots of feedback. If you don’t realize those differences, it can lead to conflict.

When it comes to training, you need to make sure you’re reaching out to all of the generations or you’re going to lose them. Training – especially safety training – is important here at Faith so we want to make sure our employees are tuned in and taking in the information. We tailor our training for the different generations and we also mix it up, changing how we’re delivering the message every 20 minutes or so. Another concept we’ve looked into is offering different options. For example, boomers hate role playing so we may make that one of the choices available so if they want to pass, they can.

This is all important because if you’re not training employees with methods they are comfortable with, they can easily become disengaged and tune out. You don’t want that, especially when you’re dealing with safety. Training and managing across different cohorts isn’t easy, but it is possible if you understand the differences and keep it varied so everyone is having their needs met.

We continue to make changes based on generational differences. For example, Generation Y really needs more at orientation. They really get into their “on boarding” at a company, whereas Generation X just wants the essential information and to get started.

There are more changes that need to be made, such as how we give our employees feedback. A once a year review is really based on how the boomer generation likes feedback. Generation X wants to know how they’re doing along the way – if they are doing well, tell them; if they’re not, tell them. Don’t wait. As for Generation Y, they want feedback at the push of a button.

Can you create some sort of tool that tells them how their performance compares to what they previously did?

Who knows what the next generation – those born after 2000 – will bring to the workforce?
It’s all about making the employees comfortable in their environment. That’s how you’ll get the best out of them and that’s all employers want.

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