The American workplace is experiencing a phenomenon that’s never before been seen: a workforce with the widest age range in history, from 24 to 74. We’re talking up to four generations all working under one roof: Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials and the new, up-and-coming Generation Zers. And this age gap naturally poses a unique challenge for corporate planners to create programs that speak to all ages. So how to best create events that engage all? We spoke to Jeff Butler, a workplace generation expert whose insights have been featured in dozens of media outlets such as Forbes and HR News, about how to better understand and resonate with each generation in your next corporate program.
Barriers to Recruitment
One of the biggest hurdles to a successful multigenerational event is recruitment. In order to fill an event facility for a conference, you first have to get in front of prospective attendees and convey why it is a worthwhile event for them to attend (the value of different perspectives that is developed as you have more time in the workplace). “A huge part is how many butts you can put into seats. Can you get people to sign up?” According to Butler, this is a question that reverberates in the minds of many program planners. Butler says that using multiple channels is the key to marketing an event where you hope to attract a multigenerational crowd. Millennial employees tend to be engaged by more visual platforms like Instagram. They respond to dynamic images of people thriving at previous events. Members of the Gen X workforce generally defer to LinkedIn for career programming and events, while the most senior generation in the workforce is apt to respond to word of mouth and other, more traditional methods of recruitment. Knowing the best ways to connect with each generation will ensure that there actually is a multigenerational event to attend!
Something for Everyone
One natural implication of a multigenerational program is that people of varying seniority levels within an organization will be in attendance. According to Butler, this is where the challenge of picking the right content to present comes into play. “It’s a lot harder to find topics that can connect with everyone. The challenge is taking those evergreen topics that people have a general interest in and making them appeal across the board,” he says. Butler used a talk he gave as an example of how to speak to multiple age groups in one event. “I gave a talk on multigenerational management and creating generational cohesion. I brought in both sides of the conversation in terms of barriers for each generation when working in tandem with each other. If I had framed it as “millennial management,” half the audience would have walked away thinking that they are a problem.”
Give Attendees Options
“When you have people who are younger, they tend to prefer digital to print,” admits Butler, speaking to a common assumption about younger members of the workforce. He believes it is always better to give attendees a choice by sending them a digital version of program materials that they then have the option to print – whether it be a meeting agenda or conference worksheet. “If they have a digital copy, depending on the generation and the manner they prefer to receive information in, they now have the option to choose between print and digital,” explains Butler.
Break Down Generational Walls
Some things span generations, foster comradery, and are simply fun elements to include in any program. Whether planning a meeting, conference, or talk, Butler suggests including a relationship-building activity. “People are in it to form long-lasting business relationships. If they just wanted the information, they could go to the library. As a best practice, make sure there is always a fun, networking part of the event that gets people doing something together where they can put aside generational differences and form relationships,” explains Butler. He expands on many effective examples he has seen over the years, from putting competitions and scavenger hunts to early morning group runs at an extended conference.
Get Feedback – In Person
Is a physical feedback form or app inquiry a better way to gather information? Many would say physical from for the older generation, an app inquiry for the younger to gather attendee feedback after a program. But, in Butler’s opinion, it is best to throw both ideas out the window. “Surveys are not very reliable because people will either fill them out because they absolutely loved the speaker, or they are just mad because they woke up late and forgot their coffee,” says Butler. He prefers a boots-on-the-ground approach, opting for actively approaching attendees for feedback in person – catch them on breaks or headed out at the end of the day.