How to Create a Multi-Generational Onboarding Program

By Sara Pollock

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An onboarding program is essential to the success of new hires and should be as diverse as the individuals joining the company. Their unique skills, personalities and backgrounds bring a myriad of talents to the workplace. As such, it's important for the onboarding process to cater to the individual so that their transition into the organization goes smoothly.

It is not uncommon for organizations to struggle with the last part. This is especially true as more and more organizations are pushing for greater diversity among their workforce, hiring multigenerational talent with a vast array of experiences. Every professional has their own capabilities and skillsets. Tailoring your onboarding program to these very different, but equally valuable employees can mean the difference between a successful hire and an assured exit.

Onboarding a Baby Boomer
Baby Boomers are those who are born between 1946 and 1964, which means they have been working for at least 30 years, potentially ranging in more than one expertise or industry. When it comes to employment, they get it. They understand guidelines, rules and how to navigate the complications of office personalities and stress. Many Boomers are comfortable with conservative company culture, exhibiting less interest in newer management trends and perks. For example, a Boomer might be gung-ho for teamwork but more skeptical about collaboration. In essence, these are nearly synonymous concepts but the way they’re positioned makes a difference.

Chances are high that your employee onboarding process is not the first one a Boomer employee has experienced. They know a thing or two about starting a new job. Older employees might expect the traditional orientation led by HR and featuring presentation decks. They will be great with foundational understanding of the rules and regulations set forth, however, many Boomers might not be as excited by advanced technologies. They might also be stuck in their own ways, holding tightly to processes they have followed throughout their career or how something was done in a previous position.

Before Day One
A good onboarding program for Baby Boomers capitalizes on their self-awareness and experience. Instead of guessing how he or she might work best, ask. Delve into their learning style and preferred working style. Does he or she love strategizing in a group or enjoy independent work environments? Discuss the technology that is used within the office, touching on their comfort level with online tools and processes.

Be sure to understand the non-negotiables of the job when asking these questions. For example, your organization might have a process or procedure that every employee needs to follow. Explain the importance of the process then ask how you and your team can help them learn/use/follow it comfortably. That way they understand they must participate accordingly and will know who to approach for help.

Bonus tip! Employees, regardless of their generation, all have unique working preferences. Extroverts might be most happy in an open office conducive to chatting, while introverts might need solitude to feel most productive. If possible, create an office that features various workspaces, like open areas for group work and cubicles for focus. That way, both type of worker can find a space that suits their working style.

Onboarding Generation X
Depending who you ask, Generation X was born anywhere from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. These professionals are youngish but experienced. They have watched technology grow firsthand, while still very much understanding the rules of corporate life. Chances are a Gen X new hire will have experienced onboarding enough times to be comfortable with traditional orientations, but are young and enthused enough to be open to more modern techniques.

Gen X is known for independence and paving the way for today’s focus on work-life balance. Because of their interest in working independently, the traditional orientations might be a bit lost on many Gen X-ers. A successful Gen X onboarding program incorporates self-guided onboarding and training processes. On-the-job training where they can get their hands into actual workplace projects will be effective.

Before Day One
Mentorships and coaching programs can be a great way to feed that desire for independent guidance, while also helping integrate your new hire into the company culture and reach peak productivity quickly. Find an established employee who understands the new hire’s job and role within the organization. Work with that employee to develop a few projects the new hire can jump into immediately, while being led by the seasoned employee. Have an outline or timeline for each project prepared prior to the new hire’s first day so that when they complete orientation, they can see a clear set of goals and expectations. This will also help ensure the established employee has availability to take the new hire under their wing.

Bonus fact! 77% of companies with mentoring programs believe it improved both employee retention and job performance.

Another study found that employee mentoring increased productivity by 88%. Even more, mentorship programs have proven to be highly desirable by Millennials, too. All in all, mentoring is a great way to help new hires get acclimated to the job, while introducing them to the team they will be working with. There’s nothing more comforting than knowing at least one person you can eat lunch with on the first day of a job. A mentor can do that.

Onboarding a Millennial
Millennials are some of the most talked about employees now. Born between the late 1980s and 1990s, they are nearly the youngest in the workforce. Many are just beginning to work their way out of entry-level positions, while some are still just starting their professional journey. Some Millennials may not know exactly how they prefer to work or what helps them establish skills in a workplace. They do, however, have an affinity for technology and connectivity. They also desire meaningful work and the potential to see career growth.

Traditional orientations and onboarding programs probably won’t be what guides a Millennial to success. In fact, they might find it boring and uninspired. Instead, they want the on-the-job training Gen X-ers prefer. Many understand their lack of experience, so the potential for skill development and helpful feedback will excite them. If you can incorporate gamification and sociable experiences, your Millennial new hire will thank you.

Before Day One
Develop a clear plan for the Millennial new hire’s onboarding process, including projects, goals, KPIs and check-ins with management. Be sure your managers have all the tools they need to deliver feedback on a regular basis.

Many performance management systems have feedback capabilities built in. Within the first few days, be sure to detail their current role and how they can build toward other positions within the organization. Also, encourage them to think of ways to innovate within the company, and outline how they might approach implementation of those ideas. This will not only help the new hire see potential for growth, but will lead to improved processes for your organization, too.

Note that no matter what generation your newest employee is, you need to focus on communicating outside the digital divide. Allison Kruse, Brand Manager at Kforce says this:

Most millennials consider themselves digital natives, growing up with technology and the Internet. Many of us are comfortable texting, tweeting or Facebook messaging our co-workers. In our hyperconnected world, digital communication is second nature, and we continue to incorporate new technology into the way we connect with others.

However, our affinity for digital communication can be a barrier to meaningful connections at work.

On an average day, 39% of millennials interact with their phones more than they do with people, a 2016 Bank of America consumer study reports. Nearly 44% of Americans also use their mobile devices to avoid social interaction, with millennials more likely to do so at 71%.

“Because this digital age makes it so easy to avoid human interaction, it’s critical that managers establish rapport with their employees,” says Kforce millennial Kristan McCants. “Scheduling regular 1:1’s or simply grabbing a coffee during a work break are just a few ways to establish a level of trust and understanding with colleagues.”

Each generation has a different outlook on the world of work. Whether you blame the economy’s state when they were teens or the parenting techniques that were trending when they were children, there is no doubt that what resonates with one person might very well do nothing for another. Building a multi-generational onboarding program means understanding the intricacies of each new hire and finding a connection between them and your company culture.

About Sara Pollock:
As the head of the Marketing department, Sara makes sure that ClearCompany’s message, products and best practices reach and assist as many HR practitioners as possible.

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