logo image

ATD Blog

How Multiple Generations in the Workforce Affect Talent Development


Thu Apr 21 2016

How Multiple Generations in the Workforce Affect Talent Development

One of the tenets of successful communication is to know your audience. This has never been more important than for today’s sales organization. That’s because there are now four generations in the workforce:

  • Traditionalists (born before 1945) 

  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) 

  • Generation Xers (born 1965-1980) 

  • Millennials (born 1981-1997).

There have always been a range of ages in the workplace, from college graduates to those about to retire. What makes the current circumstance worth noting is that, according to the Pew Research Center, Millennials became the largest segment of the American workforce in 2015, with more than one in three workers being from that generation.


While Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are retiring in increasing numbers, there are still many who either can’t afford to retire or who choose to keep working. Over time, the numbers for these groups will decline, but then Generation Z (those born after 1998 and beginning to graduate high school) will start entering the workforce in earnest.

The point: The broad gap between generations within an organization presents an opportunity to identify the differences and similarities in learning and communication styles.

Traditionalists: From a leadership or training perspective, and speaking in generalities, most workers in this generation have a real commitment to their organization. They value teamwork, collaboration, and the development of interpersonal skills. Their learning style is commensurate with these characteristics, and they like teamwork and collaboration in the classroom.

Baby Boomers: Workers of this generation tend to be very competitive. They are success-driven, and like to grow professionally, are receptive to change, and consider training as one path to being successful. They are most comfortable with traditional instructor-led training that takes place in classrooms.

Gen Xers: These workers are more willing and able than Baby Boomers or traditionalists to use technology-based learning because they grew up with it. They appreciate the flexibility that it offers, and they almost expect to be connected with technology. They prefer short, focused training on demand over longer classroom training. They also pay more attention to work-life balance issues than previous generations.


Millennials: This generation clearly embraces technology and is tech savvy. Generally speaking, Millennial workers deal well with change and are resilient. For Millennials, learning needs to be hands-on and interactive. They like to have fun and enjoy games and simulations.

What does this range of attributes and characteristics mean for those of us who manage, coach, or train multiple generations in one sales organization?

  • We have to incorporate a blended approach to learning. 

  • We need to develop a customized approach to coaching. 

  • We must learn to communicate differently, using a variety of vehicles and technologies.

If we want to be effective as leaders, coaches, and trainers, we need to understand where our organization is currently, look at our talent management strategy, and respond accordingly. There will be no one right way to engage and develop everyone across all generations. This will take a commitment to considering multiple options and platforms for training, different styles of coaching, and alternate ways to communicate. In essence, it requires a blended approach to managing, coaching, and training that appeals across generations, giving people a chance to work together, collaborate around skill sets, and experience the value of multi-generational teams.

L&D professionals who are Baby Boomers or Gen Xers need to be skilled in using technology and in providing true facilitation. This doesn’t mean training, per se. It means creating venues, forums, and opportunities for a diverse workforce to interact with one another inside and outside of the classroom, with simulations, collaboration, and opportunities for all learners to shine in every aspect of their job.

If we don’t adapt to the different learning styles within our organizations and break down barriers, our performance will suffer—as individuals, as a team, and as an organization. However, if we nurture an environment that recognizes and bridges the gaps between generations, there is a greater chance of engaging people at all levels.


Join me May 25 at ATD 2016 Conference & Exposition for the session “Deploying an Effective Training Program Within a Multigenerational Sales Organization.” We will discuss how the wide range of ages, experiences, communication styles, and degree of comfort with digital and mobile technologies, potential cross-generational conflicts, and misunderstandings were a key consideration when putting together the training program for the client service and support organization for a large financial services leader.

You've Reached ATD Member-only Content

Become an ATD member to continue

Already a member?Sign In


Copyright © 2024 ATD

ASTD changed its name to ATD to meet the growing needs of a dynamic, global profession.

Terms of UsePrivacy NoticeCookie Policy