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Gen X — A Generation of Workers You Cannot Afford to Overlook

These career-focused workers bridge the gap between two giant parts of the labour pool.

If life were a sandwich, you’d find Gen X squeezed between two thick layers: baby boomers on top and millennials underneath. Gen X, in the middle of that sandwich, adds a lot of personality and flavour—a thin layer that’s still a big part of the whole equation. In short, Gen X is not to be overlooked.

Gen X is the smallest of the generational sets, but as boomers are advancing into retirement and millennials are coming of age, this group is poised to become a key part of the labour force. Managers, who have at times looked down on Gen Xers as slackers or self-centred, should take a fresh look. As Gen X grows into a mature, career-minded phase of their work life, their experience is valuable in bridging the gap between the giant boomer and millennial generations.

Understanding Gen X makes it easier to reach themGen X - Communication Strategies

So who is this small but important generation? They’re the original latchkey kids. They’re a product of a time when family life was changing dramatically. Many grew up depending less on the adults in their lives and more on their peer groups. At a time when divorce rates grew more rapidly and both parents worked full-time outside the house, Gen X formed its own sense of resourcefulness, independence, and skepticism.

Lee Hecht Harrison’s Managaing Today’s Multigenerational Workforce report shows that Gen X puts a high value on education, material goods, and financial and emotional security. They also find value in fun, something that translates to the workplace. Dan Longton, President of workforce training company TraitSet, points out that Gen Xers want to have fun at work, and will often leave jobs or roles that are not fun.

Once you recognize who they are—resourceful, smart, fun-loving, independent but able to work well with their peers—it will help land them on your team. So where do you find them? Like the younger generations, they’re online. A 2014 Forbes report “How Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y Look for Work” shows more than 70 percent of Gen Xers use mobile devices for job searches. This means the same avenues you use to recruit younger workers is likely to reach Gen X workers, especially the tech-savvy Gen Xers who fit well with the technology-driven parts of your business. So cast your search net on sites like Workopolis, Monster, Indeed, eluta.ca, kijiji.ca and craigslist.ca., and don’t forget, Longton says, to promote the fact that yours is a fun place to work. You can do that by keeping an updated company profile on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

They’re able to fit in, able to move forwardGen X Work Styles

Gen X grew up in the midst of a technology revolution, so they’re good adapters, Longton says. Even though it wasn’t always possible to zoom, pinch and swipe information on a tablet, Gen X has witnessed and willingly accepted technology changes, catching on quickly. This is good for training. Once hired, they’re comfortable learning about and using POS systems and data tracking applications in your operation.

As older workers in leadership roles retire, Gen X will be motivated to take the reins. And because they are well-educated—40% have a college degree or higher—they are prime candidates for leadership. But they don’t always fare well in a sink-or-swim world, Longton says. Training should involve teamwork, combining with others to shape their confidence. They view their boss as an expert—someone with hard-earned experience—and they find great value in a strong mentoring relationship. 

Make your business a place where they can grow, not grow old

Their life experience has always had an on-demand element, from remote controls to microwave ovens to ATM machines to instant messaging. They also have lived through economic downturns that may have involved layoffs, so they can feel insecure without immediate feedback, according to Entrepreneur.com.

Feedback and communication should be a key part of your retention strategy. It also helps to take a general interest in their lives. Entrepreneur.com points out that they grew up in households where work came ahead of family life, so they grew to appreciate a work-life balance. Communication, giving them the tools to and knowledge to do their jobs well, resolving issues quickly and recognizing performance show them their efforts are valued. Keeping Gen X motivated can be as simple as three basics:

  1. Give them room to grow. Provide clear goals and reasonable latitude to achieve them.
  2. Provide choices. Their “fend-for-themselves” approach works best if they have options. Their creativity and resourcefulness will carry them through.
  3. Make mentoring available. Spending time with them but not micromanaging (remember their latchkey-kid self-reliance) allows them to spread their wings and soar.
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