Spanning the Generational Divide

generations2Look around most meeting halls and workplaces and you’ll often see faces across a full spectrum of age groups, from new hires fresh out of college to veteran employees nearing retirement. Having such age diversity in a company has lots of benefits. Younger workers often bring fresh perspectives and a fluency in technology to the table. On the other end, older workers have experience and institutional knowledge on their side, and can provide mentoring to newer employees.

But for meeting planners, marketing an event to attract the highest attendance, or planning a meeting to an age-diverse group comes with certain challenges, and affects everything from the choice in entertainment and speakers to food and beverage and technology. To choose the best options, you need to know your audience. And in the case of wide-ranging age groups, this means learning some of the defining workplace characteristics of each generation.

Today’s workers can basically be placed into four generational groups: Millennials, Gen Xers, late Baby Boomers and early Baby Boomers. There’s no official consensus on the line between generations, but it typically results from fluctuations in society that led to big increases or declines in birthrates. Think post-war birth surge for Baby Boomers, and the rise in latchkey Gen-X kids that resulted when both parents entered the workforce.

A lot of ink has been spilled trying to define Millennials since they first appeared in the workplace over ten years ago. Born between 1980 and 2000 (give or take a few years depending on the source), the youngest workers have earned a reputation as tech and social media savvy. In the workplace, they tend to prefer quick feedback and instant gratification, can be both high maintenance and high performing, and are environmentally and socially conscious.

Gen-Xers were born between 1963 and 1980 or so, and are defined by their independence and self-reliance. They’re comfortable with technology, seek work/life balance, and are more cynical of political and corporate structures than their elders. Late Baby Boomers (1955-1962) tend to relate better to younger generations, prefer a socially conscious workplace, and are comfortable with distance learning. Early Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1954, are both idealistic and career motivated, and generally prefer an instructor to lead them through technology training.

To communicate effectively with other generations, you need to understand where the other is coming from, their frame of reference and cultural touchstones (for example, The Beatles have a different resonance with Boomers than Gen-Xers). Speaking in different generational tongues helps when marketing an event as well. Millennials, for one, are wary of being pandered to, while the medium is often as important as the message.

A classic example of multi-generational marketing can be found in the U.S. Army’s recuitment pitch over the years. “Be all you can be,” appealed to idealistic Baby Boomers, while “Army of one,” was aimed at self-reliant Gen-Xers. For Millennials, who tend to be closer to their parents than other generations, the Army’s ads showed recruits talking it over with mom or dad.

Once a planner’s multi-generational attendees are assembled, the challenge is in keeping everyone engaged and entertained. From the delivery of content during sessions to food and beverage and entertainment after, a meeting format that appeals to the most people will have a lot to do with its success.

For the educational portion, that could mean positioning its purpose toward what each generation cares most about. The message to Boomers might be: this meeting will give you knowledge you need to succeed, while independent Gen Xers want to hear that you’re offering skills to survive in the workplace. Millennials are often just as concerned with how the material is presented, and respond best to a format that’s enjoyable and feels more casual and spontaneous.

Pleasing an age-diverse crowd in a post-meeting reception might require multiple options that appeal to each group, such as rolling out the craft beer on tap for younger attendees and fine wines for the older crowd. A free afternoon at the beach could offer adventure water sports like parasailing, along with calmer options like glass-bottom boat tours or simply relaxing under umbrellas.

Photo credits: iStock,

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and blogger based in San Jose, California. He has covered the meetings and hospitality industry extensively since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @jcax01

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