We’ve talked about Millennials in the workplace and the Baby Boomers, but what about the near-forgotten Gen X? These employees have much to give in terms of experience and industry knowledge. The fact that those between the ages of 40 and 49 have the lowest levels of engagement is disconcerting because they are the next (if not current) organizational leaders. In fact, 55% of startup founders are Gen Xers. As the current leadership of your company, it’s your responsibility to not only understand why they are disengaged but also how to fix the problem.
Because many Gen Xers watched their parents lose their jobs in the economic downturn of the 1990s, they don’t have the same faith in corporations. They don’t believe in working overly long hours, paying their dues or dedicating their entire lives to work.
In fact, 60% of women and 48% of men overall rate greater work-life balance and better personal well-being as a "very important" attribute in a new job. They’ve discovered there’s more to life than work, although they still care deeply about jobs they do. The problem lies in the idea that the same things that engaged Baby Boomers will engage Gen Xers: they won’t. Instead, take a look to find out what will work:
Micromanaging is a Macro No-No
The first way to remotivate Gen X is to give them a degree of autonomy; quit leaning over their shoulders and breathing down their necks. Gen X employees don’t need approval with every project or every minute task. In fact, doing so will quickly instigate the disengagement of this workforce generation. They need the time and the space to get projects and assignments done on their own time in their own way. While Millennials are more interested in having quarterly reviews, 44% of Gen X is fine with the standard annual review process.
Because they are between the traditional learning preferences of the Baby Boomers and the tech-centered learning style of the Millennials, they are capable of gleaning information from both styles. As an added bonus, when you manage to remotivate them, Gen Xers are poised to be the perfect go-between for your workers in older and younger generations.
While they don’t appreciate micromanaging tendencies, Gen X employees still need and value open communication. If you don’t currently have a culture of open communication in your workplace, here are a few tips to get your team started:
- Institute an around-the-clock open door policy
- Implement consistent annual or biannual reviews
- Organize informal social outings for the team
- Keep employees informed of changing company strategy
- Utilize anonymous surveys
- Implement social intranet software
Moreover, they value immediate and ongoing feedback and recognition in the workplace. They want both negative and positive feedback to improve their work; and interestingly enough, they are less averse to giving negative feedback compared to other working generations. As Jim Wynne, COO at Merit Career Development, said:
“The best communication balance for managers is to provide adequate feedback to Gen Xers: It can serve as a viable motivator for continuing - or improving - their strong work ethic.”
Understand their Passions
Like their younger counterparts, Gen X employees are likely to be more engaged in projects they are passionate about. A recent survey revealed 74% of workers felt they weren’t achieving their full potential at work. By ignoring passions, you’re missing out on revenue and growth. In fact, an overwhelming 51% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged, and Gen X makes up a large part of that count. The more your managers understand what the generation’s wants and needs in the workplace, the easier it will become to keep them engaged.
These employees have seen the fall of many corporations and the merge of others, so the traditional work environment may not bode well for engaging Gen Xers. Instead, allow them to work on projects they can find passion in. Keith Bennitz (@hmscareers), CEO and Founder of H.M.S. Careers Inc., said:
“The stuffy corporate atmosphere of yore is not appealing to Gen X. More and more Gen Xers are leaving big corporations for smaller companies that foster innovation and value-added work.”
Find and Treat the Gap
Ultimately, there’s a fundamental chasm between the emerging technology and the Gen X employees. Everything from social media to the constantly changing nature of computer and mobile usage can be a training conundrum for company leadership. Despite the problems that arise, 83% of global workers believe that technology advances have enabled them to be more productive. If given the opportunity, Gen X employees are eager to learn and adopt these new media. In fact, 84% of Gen X women bought themselves smartphones in the last year, and another 71% purchased a tablet. So, it’s not that they are estranged from technology, they are merely adapting to it as they have done for most of their lives.
The key to fixing the engagement problem with Gen X employees is a keen awareness of what they want in the workplace. Generation X employees don’t need your guidance or praise during every phase of a project, although they are avid defenders of workplace communication.
Passions and links to company goals and values are primary drivers to engaging Gen Xers, so take time to ensure your entire workforce understands how their work fits into achieving these goals. This is mainly because Gen X workers expect to stay with the company long-term. In fact, 62% of them say it’s likely they will never leave their current employer. Whether it’s creating an amalgamation of generational learning habits or underlining the qualities of the organization that drive Gen X engagement, it’s your responsibility as a leader to give employees the tools they need for engagement.
Invest in the Right Rewards
Unlike Millennials, Gen Xers are fairly settled at this point in time. They have spouses and families, and they’ve worked to build their careers. The same rewards that work for other generations just aren’t going to apply. Still, benefits can’t be ignored: 79% of employers believe offering benefits to employees is a critical component of attracting talent. So what does Gen X want? Mainly, flexibility. Gen X workers with families want to be able to take time off to for family events, which ties back into their value of work-life balance.
Moreover, Gen Xers care about company culture. They want to work in an exciting, engaging culture where they have opportunities for personal growth. Overall, 68% of workers say employee training and development is the most important workplace policy. What’s even better is that when you invest in employee development, you’re not just helping Gen X, but the other workers in your company as well.
All things considered, motivating Gen X isn’t just about the right rewards or the right amount of raises. It takes a deep understand of their wants, needs and feelings about work, and this article only scratches the surface. But if you implement these 4 tips, you’ll get your Gen X workers moving in the right direction. If you’re looking to better track your employees’ progress, ClearCompany’s Performance Management software provides customizable 9-box reporting and real-time feedback tools along with a host of other insightful features.
As ClearCompany's HR Business Partner, Laura focuses on all things HR including managing employee benefits, onboarding and engagement initiatives. With a keen focus on best-practices, she serves as a strategic partner to the leadership team by acting as a trusted resource on a wide variety of human resources topics including policy interpretation, creating and recommending enhancements to the HR process, and career development.