With all the conversation about Millennials, there’s an important section of your management team you may be overlooking.
The recent article, The Quick Guide to Motivating Millennials, discussed the challenges and benefits associated with having Millennials in your workforce. The article noted their general lack of engagement, especially compared to other generations. Now, this article turns to Generation X, which the Pew Research Center as recently referred to as the “neglected middle child.” The first group of Generation Xers turned 50 last year, so this demographic is likely to be an important part of your workforce. As Janet Jackson asked, what have you done for them lately?
Who are the Generation Xers?
Those who are considered Generation Xers were born between 1964 and 1980. In the 1990s, they may have been considered slackers or wanderers, and they been known for their overall need for independence. There are only 65 million Generation Xers, compared to 77 million Baby Boomers and 83 million Millennials.
The “Neglected Middle Child”
As the Millennials and Baby Boomers took over, Generation Xers have been relatively overlooked. Perhaps this is because, statistically, they fall in between Baby Boomers and Millennials on virtually every category–from marriage rates, to religion, to education. In fact, the Pew Research Center pointed out that the only area that Generation Xers stand out is when you ask them about retirement: Generation Xers are much less likely to be confident about their financial situation after retirement than other generations.
Generation Xers seem to have been overshadowed by their younger and older counterparts, but they are an important part of the workforce. For example, the average age of an S&P 1500 CEO was 50.8 in 2013. The average CEO of an Inc. 500 company is 35 to 44–definitely a Generation Xer.
So, what can you do to be sure that your Generation Xers are happy in the workplace? It definitely differs from Millennials in a few key ways, but it is surprisingly similar in other areas as well.
1. Recognize your Generation Xer talent.
Generation Xers are well-known for keeping their heads down and working hard. They assume that their work speaks for itself, and that if they work hard enough, it will eventually pay off. Of course, that is not always the case, so, as a manager or a business owner, keep an eye out for your hard-working Generation Xers. Reward them, but also encourage them to speak up when they feel like they are being neglected.
2. Provide opportunities for growth and professional development.
Like Millennials, Generation Xers work best when they know that their company is invested in them. Generation Xers want opportunities to learn and grow as much as Millennials. Unlike Millennials, however, they will likely understand more if promotions do not come instantly. They realize that professional growth takes time and commitment–something that Millennials often misunderstand.
3. Be flexible.
Just like Millennials, flexibility is important to Generation Xers as well, but it is for entirely different reasons. Millennials want time for outside-of-work activities like volunteering and hobbies. Generation Xers need time to care for two generations of family: their children and their parents. The Baby Boomers are living longer and with more complicated medical conditions, which means that the Generation Xers may be called upon–more previous generations have been–to act as caregivers for aging parents.
4. Understand their aversion to risk.
This point goes back to their serious concern about retirement. Generation Xers lost approximately 45% of their wealth during 2007 to 2010 (compared to roughly 27% for Baby Boomers). This means that they may be less willing to take risks than other generations, both financially and in the workplace generally. The average Generation Xer is likely still trying to get their debt under control and attempt to save for retirement at the same time. This situation may also mean that Generation Xers may be more motivated by bonuses and raises than other generations, particularly Millennials.
This is also why Generation Xers are likely to remain quietly dissatisfied, rather than acting out like Millennials might. While disengaged Generation Xers probably won’t disrupt the office outright, the quiet discontent of your leaders, managers, or executives can be a serious drain on productivity and morale.
5. Give them a chance to work independently.
Generation Xers have always been known for their independence, so why not let them exercise some of that in the workplace? One report explains that Generation Xers work well in situations where “conditions are not well-defined, or are constantly changing.” Like Millennials, Generation Xers want to have some degree of control over their work, and letting them take the lead on specific projects will help fulfil that need.
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Although Generation X is the smaller than the Millennials or the Baby Boomers, they have a lot on their plate that hasn’t affected the other generations as drastically–like debt and caring for aging parents. Motivating them entails some of the same requirements as Millennials, but for entirely different reasons. Do not understate or underappreciate these workers; they will be a key asset if supported and nurtured effectively within the work place.