How Generational Differences in the Workplace Impact eLearning

If you’re doing it right, your hospitality business should look like a pretty diverse workplace when it comes to your staff. It’s in your interest, since the services you provide to your clients will likely be pretty diverse, as will your clients themselves.

Diversity can mean all sorts of things but there’s one specific aspect to workplace diversity we’d like to cover in this post, and that’s age range. We’re talking generational differences, and there’s a good chance that your operation brings together around four distinct generations. Your employees as individuals can be essentially categorised as either boomers, Gen X’ers, millennials, and Gen Z’s, with boomers being the eldest. Now, if you’re a hands-on manager, you might have seen how different age ranges deal differently with the same tasks, or react to certain situations on the job. When it comes to skills training, or learning and development for all of these individuals, it follows that each age group is going to respond differently to this too. So, let’s run through how your hospitality training and elearning schemes can maximise value for you and your staff, and how you can set in place learning and training that really resonates with every age group.

Understanding Differences

When you’re looking to train your employees, a great LMS, or learning management system is the perfect way to get your whole workforce learning, growing and succeeding. In the fast-paced hospitality industry, elearning is a fantastic tool to get all your staff members, across the whole of your business, comfortable with new procedures or to refresh memories when it comes to more commonly performed duties for example. But while all age groups might be willing to learn, the medium does need some consideration. For example, you might have a group of Gen X’ers and Gen Z’s working together on a daily basis and so you you’ll need both groups to engage with their online training to get things done well as a team. Yet, each group might have a different level of comfort with or expectation of technology. What we’re saying here is that online learning needs to be tailored to each set of folks to help them have the best experience with it. Makes sense, right? Understanding and addressing generational differences is key to making the most of your LMS software. Let’s break it down a bit.

Keep Online Learning Flexible

There’s been heaps of research on this topic, since intergenerational workplaces are now the norm, and the smooth running of operations relies on understanding the people who work for you; their backgrounds and their expectations. Let’s take our first, and eldest group, our boomers. Though they’re getting older, there are still plenty of boomers at work, and businesses are richer for it. They typically bring experience, motivation and focus for instance, and though years and years of customer service to their name might make them skilled, there’s always still more learning to do. However, online learning for many boomers might also involve learning how to get online, and learning to navigate signs and signifiers that younger generations automatically ‘read’.

Remember, you might have folks working for you that remember getting a black and white television with dials installed at home for the first time. They’ve maybe used typewriters at work; they’ve seen quite a bit of change. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of tech-savvy boomers out there, but online literacy among older staff members might not be as fluent, or natural. Here, it’s best not to assume an older employee will just hop on their mobile to complete a ten minute online course. On the other hand, the youngest group, Gen Z, won’t remember a world without the internet, and what they lack in workplace experience, they make up for in willingness to interact with online tools, and generally tend to pick it up very, very fast. Gen X is the generation that basically invented the online world as we know it, and millennials are the ones that grew up on it, transforming it into the place it is today – Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, is a millennial.

So, when it comes to access to online training, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to cut it, but with consideration, perhaps customising the design and content of each online course, you should find ways to get your people comfortable with elearning. A great LMS should offer you this flexibility, and you can always support anyone who needs a little more help with extra instructional modules. You can offer a simple interface or a super dynamic one – what your staff require, your LMS software should be able to offer. This is the beauty of online learning software because it can be a simplistic or complex as it needs to be when it comes to the user interface. Likewise, you can keep digital natives interested with gamified apps, and quick-access mobile training. Hopefully, if you keep online abilities in mind across the generations, how they’re learning will dovetail with what you need them to know.

Supporting A Culture of Learning

Which brings us neatly to our next topic, which is essentially two questions: what are they learning? And how are they reacting to it?

It’s pretty obvious that if different groups are engaging with your LMS differently, then they’re likely to have different responses to learning too. Again, there’s plenty of research out there if you want to parse through it, but we’ll paraphrase here to keep things snappy. Essentially, with each generation, comes a set of attributes which are largely applicable to everyone in that group, and while there are individuals that buck the trend, when you’re looking to focus on your workforce as a whole, it’s worth starting out with a good look at what these attributes loosely are. Let’s take a look at millennials as a first example. Millennials will likely offer little resistance to online training, and get to grips with it pretty quick, but since much of their adult lives have been spent online, they also expect feedback. The comments, the like button, a reaction. In the workplace, they seem to largely respond well to affirmation and to constructive criticism about their performance, which means that when it comes to creating hospitality training programs for this age group, you might want to consider course structures that reward, give breakdowns of how they did, and maybe back it up with real-life feedback too. This kind of approach can keep millennials engaged with their online training, and if they’re engaged and find it rewarding, you’ve given them plenty of impetus to keep going.

Let’s have a quick look at another group next, the Gen X’ers. Gen X’ers seem to get a bit lost in the wash since their age group kind of blurs from young boomer to older millennial. Like their grunge heroes, Gen X’ers seem to keenly value innovation, independence and self-direction so online training for this group might involve offering them more choices as to the format or topics they’d like to tackle at any given time. If this group don’t feel harangued into completing courses, there’s a good chance they’ll investigate on their own with just gentle nudges toward online training or elearning. That doesn’t mean Gen X refuses support, but online training software that offers a library of resources rather than a spoon-fed course might be more appealing to some of them. Test this kind of approach out, and crucially, listen to, and action any feedback! This, actually is crucial for all your learning groups – don’t let your online courses get set in stone. You’ve got the power to customise your elearning software, and you’ll get the most out of it if you keep it relevant to your user. The elearning experience for your X’ers might be a little slower on the uptake than millenials, but once they feel in control of their learning, then they’re probably in it for the long haul and will get a great deal out of it.

Now, onto Gen Z. This generation also values innovation (there are a decent amount of commonalities across the generations too!) but with less experience to hand, they differ in that they regard mistakes as part of the learning curve. Broadly speaking, Gen Z need a decent amount of feedback at regular intervals and while their connection with their online learning might be swift, you’ll need to build courses to keep them interested too. What they bring on board in the real world might be a mixture of energy and uncertainty, and you can harness that with their learning – keep up with their attention span and feed them plenty of new workplace skills to plug those knowledge gaps.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Ultimately, your online training or elearning software has the potential to really help every individual, from any generation, but it’s up to you as a manager or business owner to target your online hospitality courses effectively. Although it’s risky to assume each employee falls neatly into the generational descriptions we’ve briefly sketched out, understanding that there are differences in the way these age groups tackle elearning and development online, and what they expect from it, will all help the training go in. Understand your workforce is a diverse group age-wise, focus courses respectively, and you’ll be on your way to building a culture of elearning that will benefit both your business and your employees.