As the economy roars forward, companies are in a battle not only to hire capable talent, but also to retain the workers that are assets to the organization. Much has been written about the impact of the baby boomers and millennials in the workplace. However, what about the smaller Generation X cohort that is sometimes the forgotten middle child of the generations? While they may be outnumbered by the boomers and millennials, their influence has shaped US companies during years of technological advancement and corporate change.
What Are the Characteristics of Gen X?
Independent. Born between 1965-1980, Gen Xers were often referred to as latchkey kids because a number of them came home alone after school because both parents worked. This fostered a sense of self discipline and autonomy. These individuals had to self-manage their own activities and make decisions based on judgment in the absence of an adult. Gen X learned not to depend on others for constant direction; they created their own outcomes.
Adaptable. Gen Xers’ childhoods predated the internet, personal home computers and cell phones. They had to learn, embrace and master evolving technology to be successful in corporate America. From using the first cordless home phone to commanding the world of work on a smartphone, Gen Xers’ actions illustrate the ability to adapt, pivot, and embrace change.
Self-Reliant. This cohort has experienced two Gulf Wars, the dot-com bust, the tragedy of 9/11, the Great Recession, and Covid-19. All of these events came with a great loss of jobs and retraction of the economy. Gen Xers have managed to navigate some of the most unprecedented events in history that impacted careers and livelihoods. Their resourcefulness helped them thrive and develop the expertise needed to stay relevant in the workforce in the midst of those events.
What Does Generation X Want from Their Employers?
Growth and Development. Invest in Gen X workers’ continued growth and development. Whether it be formal classroom leadership training, conferences, seminars or online courses, help them enhance their skill set. They already have a wealth of business acumen, so modernizing their tool kit benefits them and improves results for the organization. Most of Gen X has been working for decades, and any job can become repetitive and monotonous if skill sets become stagnant. Create a culture of learning and design training programs that address the needs of mid-career professionals.
New Projects and Meaningful Work. Invite them to lead new company projects and initiatives. In addition, consider offering Gen Xers a different role outside of their comfort zone that teaches them a new talent. They likely have a distinguished track record of tackling new assignments, so keep them energized with new leadership responsibilities. Evaluate your process for promotions. Is it based on performance data? Many in this group want to achieve the next level of success within a company. Engage in dialogue and determine what is important to them in their career trajectory.
Flexibility. Some Gen Xers want enhanced flexibility to care for family members or to pursue outside interests. This desire for flexibility may reach beyond the ability to work from home periodically. Moreover, some may want to take on a part-time role or become an independent contractor supporting their current team. Some workers may simply want more vacation days. One size does not fit all when it comes to flexibility. People have different motivators, so ask about them.
Mentoring Others. Every organization is engaged in succession planning as the lifeline for business continuity. Gen X is an irreplaceable asset of industry knowledge and expertise. Many want to mentor, teach and help the next generation succeed in their careers. They have a command of workplace dynamics and want to impart their skills and coach new leaders to excel in the organization.
The Generation X Influence
As pivotal members of corporate work teams, Gen X is 53 million strong in the US labor force. This group is often described as autonomous but driven to make a difference and have an impact. By using different methods to engage Gen X, we can align to their values and retain them for decades.