Lately, we’re getting a lot of questions from clients about how to effectively reach diverse workforces made up of baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials. These three groups have wildly different comfort levels with technology — and very different relationships to it.

This divide is evident in my own life. My babysitter (millennial) recently told me that no one in college carries money (or even debit cards) anymore — they pay for everything (like paying each other for splitting a pizza!) by using an app on their phones. What???

She asked me (GenXer) to pay her this way and, despite my slight aversion and genuine fear of incompetence when using any type of app, I downloaded it. Shockingly, I found it easy to use and it has been incredibly useful. I used it recently to collect money for a group baby gift. So easy!

On the other end of the technology spectrum, I sent my father-in-law (baby boomer), an accomplished professional who is still in the work force, a link to one of my blog posts. His response: “This is great, but WHAT is a blog?” I laughed out loud (or LOL’d?) when I read it.

So, although you can’t stereotype people based on their generation, it’s probably safe to say that people who are entering the workforce now expect to use phones and apps to do pretty much everything in their lives. They assume the experience will be easy and seamless. And they expect and want the same from their online training — on-demand, and when and where they feel like it. It’s what they’re used to!

And baby boomers likely are used to and comfortable with in-person training and even online training. But the thought of doing something like Code of Conduct training on their tiny phone, using an app to do anything work related, or playing a game related to ethics, could sound absurd to them (again, forgive me for generalizing — my grandmother knows how to use her phone better than I do).

So when you have a workforce made up of people like me, my babysitter, my father in law, and everyone in between, it’s a really valid question to ask: When it comes to learning and training, how the heck do you cross this generational divide? Is there really a way to reach everyone?

At Rethink Compliance, our advice is keep it simple, keep it short, keep it engaging. This approach works for everyone, regardless of generation.

So, here are a few things to think about when considering the best and most effective ways to reach your workforce:

Move beyond one form of communication.

When you need to convey information, let’s say a change in company policy, don’t rely on just one system of communication.

Think about ALL of the ways you can reach your employees. Make your messaging available in multiple formats.

Some people prefer to hear a message directly from their boss or HR. Others might prefer e-mails, posts on the Intranet, or the company’s internal instant messaging system or social media page (like Yammer).

Consider them all, and listen to employee feedback about how they prefer to receive these messages. Try different things and see what gets a response.

Think about different styles.

When thinking about training, it’s always a good thing for employees to have options, so even though you don’t have to adopt every single one, at least consider the various training options.

Some may prefer to read employee handbooks or PowerPoint presentations, while others will gravitate toward more interactive forms of learning. (Today, many direct-to-consumer courses online will offer the option of watching a video, accessing a transcript to read, or downloading the audio to listen to on the go.)

And don’t discount the ideas your employees give you about how they want to learn: Ask them what they want!


Provide training and career opportunities in an engaging format. Even if using a PowerPoint presentation, for example, make the messaging clear, engaging, and memorable.

Don’t get lost in the details. No one needs a legal treatise — they just need to know what is expected, how to recognize and solve problems, and where to go if they need help.

People appreciate being recognized.

Everyone, regardless of generation, likes recognition. Think about different ways you can reward employees, and how employees would like to be recognized, and tie this into your ethics and compliance programs.

Some ideas are e-mail shout outs, company memos, or a special space on the Intranet for those who did something that deserves special recognition.

Little rewards can go a long way toward making employees feel appreciated.

Remember: People will adapt, so don’t be afraid of newer methods of communicating.

Many years ago when training moved from in-person to online, many companies were hesitant to adopt online training, and many employees pushed back, but they eventually loved the freedom of taking training when it fit into their schedule.

Most companies today have found a happy medium of using both in-person training and online training.

So, when considering using newer technology like apps or games, don’t assume that those baby boomers won’t adjust. Just like my pleasant surprise when using a new app, your employees may be skeptical at first, but I bet they will end up loving it.

Ready to engage learners across ALL generations in your company? We can help. Sign up for a free consultation with the Rethink Compliance experts.