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AI: bridging generation gaps in the workplace

Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, the Founders – with people working longer and retirement age on the increase, it’s the first time we’ve ever experienced offices with the potential to have five different types of worker within their walls. These groups have vastly different ideas about everything from how to progress in a career, to how working weeks should be structured, so it’s no surprise that personalities clash when they’re thrown into the mix together.

The challenge then rests with the management team – can they develop a way of making these groups collaborate? Can advances in technology and artificial intelligence help with the bridge-building process? This article will explore these topics, and consider how organisations can prepare management teams to deal with such challenges.

Playing the generation game

The workplace landscape has never looked more diverse. More women than ever before are holding senior and executive positions, but there’s often a huge age and experience gap between colleagues too. With so many different terminologies flying around these days, it can be difficult to remember which generation people are talking about at times, so to begin with we’ll first consider a brief description of each…

  • The Veterans (born 1922-1945): Unsurprisingly, the most old-fashioned, no-nonsense approach to the workplace, veterans believe that starting from the very bottom, slowly working your way up with elbow grease will pay off in the end.
  • The Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964): This infamous generation now holds most of the managerial and director positions within long-established organisations. They believe in a strong work ethic and that time in the saddle counts for more than a degree.
  • Generation X (born 1965-1980): Born during the “flower-power” era, this generation have been open to more creativity and free-thinking than previous generations, and believe a work-life balance is important. This is a highly-motivated generation, keen to share ideas.
  • Generation Y (born 1981-2000): Also dubbed “the millennials”, this generation has received a lot of attention via every kind of social media, and not just because they’re the primary users. Growing up amongst technology, these “digital natives have the ability to adapt quickly to rapidly changing environments.
  • Generation Z: Simply known as the “post-millennials” or “the Founders” group, they’re the newest recruits to the workforce. With a widespread usage of the Internet from a young age, this generation is the most comfortable using technology, using social media for a large percentage of their socialising.

Just from looking at the above, some immediate challenges should leap out at leaders. How can you build bridges between the technologically savvy and those who prefer a hand-written memo? How can you structure training in an engaging way, when half the room would prefer to be watching it on a YouTube video, and the other prefer a book? How are brainstorming sessions and meetings ever to reach a consensus, when views on how to do business vary so greatly?

The most important thing to remember here is that every generation has something it can bring to another. While the first three groups have bags of experience in their field of expertise, it’s only the later generations that can make it relevant to the here and now. It’s up to the management to make this happen.

AI and the training industry

Artificial intelligence has crept into almost every area of our day-to-day lives, from parking assistants to computer games. There’s probably one example in your pocket right now; iPhone’s Siri is a voice-activated personal assistant, using machine-learning technology to become smarter over time and produce more accurate reactions to requests. With AI in such close quarters to our personal lives, it’s not surprising that this kind of technology has been used to massively improve the way we consider staff training.

On the one hand, companies are investing in training software that has been developed alongside AI, which is able to identify areas where users’ skills are poor, and respond by giving questions and content focused on improving those areas. Being able to tailor training in this way is thought to provide a much more comprehensive testing system, as opposed to typical classroom curriculum where content is set regardless of ability.

Bringing this back to our quest to bridge the generation gap, AI training programs are thought to create more meaningful lessons for users. If a member of the management team wanted to improve their relationships with each generation, they could go into a program aimed at building communication skills. The system would identify this need as the most important, and focus the lessons on this area. In this scenario, the user is more likely to fully engage and learn, as it’s helping them to deal with a real issue, rather than feeding them content about an area they have little interest in.

Plus, due to its ability to determine the best way of connecting with the user, AI should be an essential part of such training programs, as it will be several different generations who use it. Only machine-learning technology would be able to determine the type of individual logged on, and then change its approach to reach them on a personal level. In order to put across information in an engaging way – from the phrasing of questions to the intuitive tests – the computer needs to understand the kind of person sat using it – only AI can do this.

How can AI prepare managers?

For organisations to face the generation gap issue, they need to prepare managers for the challenges they’ll face in the workplace, and we can do so using the techniques discussed above. Firstly, by creating an online learning platform and forum, managers can discuss their problems not only with each other, but with chatbots and other such intelligent assistants. By analysing billions of conversations over time, AI can use the information picked up to give better advice to managers that log on.

Secondly, AI can be used to enhance connectivity between generations in the workplace. One of the main methods used by hundreds of companies is to employ a mentoring scheme. Pairing people with someone else from a different generation will encourage cross-party collaboration, and this activity can be progressed in person and online.

As the older generations prefer face-to-face meetings, initial mentoring can begin in this way, encouraging younger individuals to step away from the emails. However, the scheme can be supported via the digital world, where managers can encourage training via a similar intelligent system. Younger workers will be able to help the older generations to progress their skills in the digital arena, preparing them for modern ways of working in a rapidly-moving world.