Generations are defined by their differences. In fact, the very concept of distinct generational cohorts centers around divisive characteristics. Most of the time, managing a multigenerational workforce means walking a fine line between conflicting expectations while juggling competing demands. Usually, this balancing act isn’t easy, but there are a few instances when different preferences per age group converge. One such case is all generations’ shared desire for professional growth.
In this article, we’ll explore how the desire for professional growth manifests in each generation, share ideas for how to support professional growth, and divulge why supporting professional growth is in your business’s best interest.
The Need for Effective Multigenerational Management
In 1994, the workforce contained three generations. Today, there are five, and that number is trending aggressively upward. Someone born in 2020 isn’t projected to retire until they’re 85 — not because people will be working into their elderly years, but because lifespans are lengthening and careers have to be paced accordingly.
The modern workforce is composed as follows:
- 2% Silent Generation (born 1928 – 1945)
- 25% Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
- 33% Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)
- 35% Millennials (born 1981 – 1996)
- 5% Gen Z (born 1997 – 2012)
Age diversity isn’t going anywhere, so the sooner companies develop strategies to address it, the better they position themselves for long-term success. As with any dimension of diversity, widely varied ages can be a huge strength: It means a broader range of perspectives, experiences, and voices. But it also means conflicting expectations, which can easily give rise to challenges that rival age diversity’s benefits.
Managers of multigenerational workforces need to be equipped with strategies that allow different generations to work with —not against — each other. Such strategies can adopt one of two approaches:
- They can cater to different generations’ unique preferences (e.g. planning daily manager check-ins for millennials but weekly ones for Baby Boomers),
- They play to common preferences that span many age groups. Professional growth is an example of the latter.
A complete multigenerational management strategy will adopt both approaches, but today’s article focuses exclusively on playing to similarities. Specifically, it shares how supporting professional growth provides many generations with what they want.
What does professional growth mean to each generation?
Every generation has a slightly different conception of professional growth, but at the end of the day, they all need it. We’ll begin by exploring each generation’s relationship to professional growth to get a better idea of why it’s such an effective multigenerational management strategy.
What Professional Growth Means to Baby Boomers
Since the early days of their careers, Baby Boomers have been focused on climbing the corporate ladder. They staked out a distinguished reputation for themselves early on by working record-long hours. To a Baby Boomer, 50 hour work weeks are the minimum — and it’s not uncommon for the number of hours they spend at the office to spike a lot higher than that.
Baby Boomers tend to be highly competitive with a goal-oriented mindset. They grew up in a period of economic prosperity which afforded them a springboard to launch their careers. Although Baby Boomers are approaching the end of their professional lives, the drive that’s enabled them to lead such impressive careers continues to define the generation.
Offering opportunities for professional growth — especially title changes, certificates, awards, and other symbols of prestige — is a reliable way to speak Baby Boomer’s language.
What Professional Growth Means to Gen X
Of all the generations included in the modern workforce, Gen X wants professional growth the least but needs it the most. To be clear, this group is not averse to moving their careers forward; they simply tend to pursue professional growth less actively than other generations. As a result, they also progress at a slower rate.
One report found that while most Baby Boomers have received more than two promotions over the past five years, members of Gen X have received scarcely more than one. And yet, over 70% of organizational leaders agree that members of Gen X make the best workers overall. So, where’s the disconnect?
Gen X tends to focus less intently on driving their careers forward, instead concentrating their efforts on developing a healthy work-life balance. When managing members of Gen X, be intentional about facilitating conversations around workplace goals. Communicate clearly about what actions will lead to advancement, and support Gen X by providing plenty of opportunities for planned professional growth. For most members of Gen X, having a clearly outlined route to the next major professional milestone is a critical form of support.
What Professional Growth Means to Millennials
Millennials: the career-driven, hungry-for-promotions, sometimes-entitled generation that’s constantly pushing for more. Right alongside emotional sensitivity, millennials’ craving for professional growth is one of the most defining features of the generation.
Fiercely individualistic, millennials keep a constant eye on how their current roles relate to long-term professional development. To get the most from millennial employees, make it crystal clear that the employer-employee relationship is mutually beneficial by providing abundant opportunities for professional growth.
The consequence of not playing into this millennial desire is disengagement, which inevitably leads to turnover. If millennials don’t feel like they’re growing in their current roles, they have no qualms about seeking opportunities elsewhere. It’s important for leaders of multigenerational workforces to respond to the fact that opportunities for professional growth are one of the most heavily weighted factors millennials consider when evaluating jobs.
What Professional Growth Means to Gen Z
The majority of Gen Z is still in school, and their oldest members have only just emerged from undergrad with new diplomas clutched proudly in hand. Despite their youth, this generation already demonstrates a staggering predisposition for entrepreneurship. As a group, Gen Z is 55% more likely than millennials to want to start their own company. In fact, 72% of Gen Z members still in high school already have plans to do so.
With that entrepreneurial spirit comes a healthy hunger for professional growth. Gen Z wants to rise through the ranks quickly to position themselves for the eventual launch of their own companies. They’ll stay most engaged at organizations that offer plenty of chances to build new skills, provide outlets for continued education, and offer opportunities to form meaningful connections and a strong professional network. When employers provide Gen Z these kinds of opportunities for professional growth, both parties are satisfied.
The nuances of how a desire for professional growth manifests varies from group to group, but the high-level take away from this generational review is simple: everyone wants professional growth. This mass appeal makes it one of the most efficient ways to support a multigenerational workforce.
6 Ways to Support Professional Growth for All Employees
So you understand that professional growth is a key strategy for supporting multigenerational workforces. That’s great, but it can be a little more challenging to understand what specific opportunities you should actually offer to support professional growth.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Host a Lunch and Learn
Select a topic that appeals to all or most of your team (anything industry-relevant is usually a safe bet), connect with an expert who can provide interesting insight, and invite employees to spend their lunch hour learning alongside their peers.
Not only is this a great way to support professional growth, it creates an opportunity for team members who might not normally interact to spend time together. Add a tasty lunch option, and you’ve crafted the perfect lunch and learn.
2. Create a Tuition Reimbursement Program
As companies realize the benefit of having employees pursue continued education, company-sponsored tuition reimbursement has become increasingly popular. Tuition reimbursement programs are similar to online learning discounts in that they incentivize employees to take advantage of learning opportunities and convey a commitment to professional growth. They usually entail a comparatively formal and time-intensive commitment to structured learning, and in most cases, participants receive a symbol of accomplishment, like a degree or a certificate of completion.
3. Identify Internal Mentors
One of the easiest and most impactful ways to support employees’ professional growth is by ensuring they find mentors and coaches within your organization. Especially at a larger company, senior executives have experiences that align with junior employees’ professional goals.
Make sure these people find their way to one another.
Mentor-mentee relationships can be one of the most powerful catalysts for professional growth, and when you’re able to offer them right within your organization it bolsters job satisfaction as well.
4. Practice Regular Recognition
Too often, positive contributions go uncelebrated. This leaves employees guessing, if not altogether unaware, of their own biggest strengths.
Maybe one of your team members has remarkable aesthetic instincts — but if you never call him out for amazing design, he might never realize it. Practicing regular recognition is a simple way to help employees see their own strengths, and the big boost it gives to morale doesn’t hurt either.
5. Offer Discounts for Online Classes
Websites like Udemy and Lynda.com have made it easier than ever to develop new skills, but the price tag can be a deterrent. Offer employees a discount or reimbursement for career-relevant courses and you’ll send a clear message that you’re committed to supporting their professional growth while increasing the likelihood employees take advantage of the opportunities available to them.
6. Facilitate Leadership Training
Regardless of the field, professional growth almost always entails taking on direct reports, which means that having refined leadership skills becomes an increasingly relevant strength. Because of this, offering opportunities for leadership development is a lucrative way to support professional growth for many groups at once.
Ultimately, your company should aim to offer a range of avenues for professional growth. Especially when working with a multigenerational workforce, understand that people will vary in their preferred learning styles and optimal educational pacing. The more variety you can include in the options you make available to your team, the better.
Finally, once you’ve developed a robust selection of professional growth opportunities, encourage managers to make specific recommendations about which avenues they think would be helpful for their direct reports to pursue. Often the biggest barrier to effective professional growth is simply not knowing which direction one should grow. Making specific recommendations can help immensely.
Professional Growth Is Good for Business, Too
The primary value we’re speaking to in this discussion is the fact that supporting professional growth appeals to all generations. It’s one of the few strategic initiatives that resonates across age groups. But in addition to its multigenerational appeal, supporting professional growth comes with a variety of other benefits that make it an obvious strategic choice for any company.
Offering abundant opportunities for professional growth strengthens the talent that’s already at your company by providing the kind of support they need to continually improve.
On top of that, it makes your company a more attractive employer. When you offer opportunities for professional growth, top talent views your organization as the kind of place that will move their careers forward and will enthusiastically pursue positions there as a result.
And on top of that, supporting professional growth keeps your workforce engaged and motivated by allowing them to continually work towards meaningful, appropriately challenging goals.
The list of benefits goes on, but by now the point is clear: opportunities for professional growth are one of those rare situations in which pretty much everybody wins. Supporting it means keeping individual employees satisfied and engaged, practicing excellent multigenerational management, and securing a strong position for long-term company success.
Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.