Overcome a Talent Shortage:
Create a Gen-X Friendly Workplace
By Deanne DeMarco
million Baby Boomers who make up forty-five percent of the workforce
are now starting to retire; in 2007 that rate is expected to hit
three million people. And the mass exodus of Boomers from the
workforce will only increase over the next ten years. So the
question is: Who will replace these retiring workers?
logic would dictate that the next generation (Generation X, as
they’re called) will simply step in and fill the newly vacant roles,
that is simply impossible. Why? Because the Gen X population—those
born between 1964 and 1977—totals a mere forty-five million people.
That’s a deficit of 30 million workers. As one economist from the
Office of Labor Statistics noted, “over 500 occupations will be
adversely affected by the boomers’ departure.” It doesn’t take a
rocket scientist to figure out that a worker shortage is on the
matters worse, retaining Gen-X employees is a challenge that plagues
many companies. A number of research studies suggest that one in
five Gen-Xers is preparing to leave their current job. In addition,
Gen-Xers are leaving the big corporations in droves to be
entrepreneurs or to join smaller companies—even if it means taking a
pay cut. According to exit polls and research studies, Gen-Xers are
disgusted with the mismanagement of top corporate officials,
hierarchical politics, corporate ladders, and the lack of job
satisfaction and job fulfillment.
across the country echo the same message: They want a Gen-X friendly
workplace. And that, in fact, is the key to retaining these skilled
workers in your company so you’re not left in the cold when the
labor shortage hits. Following are four strategies that will enable
you to attract the Gen-X talent you will need to stay successful and
competitive in the years to come.
Focus on collaborative relationships: Gen-Xers grew up in social
conditions very different than previous generations. Many were
latchkey children, and fifty percent were raised in single parent
homes. They often spent an excessive amount of time alone. As a
result, today Gen-Xers are relationship builders. In fact, this need
for strong relationships touches every aspect of their life—at home,
at work, and as consumers. As such, companies need to develop new
communication models that include strategies for building “it”
Unfortunately, many managers still don’t use their workforce to
collaborate on projects, goals, or the development of ideas.
Instead, they use coercion or they dictate what is going to be done.
But that approach won’t cut it for the Gen-X workforce. Companies
that retain these workers for the long haul need to take a
collaborative approach to such things as decision making, problem
solving, and product development. Yes, Gen-Xers want the company to
do well, but they also want to be a strong voice in taking the
company where it needs to go.
rather than tell your Gen-X employees what steps to take to solve a
problem, allow them to brainstorm with you to generate ideas. Or
when you need to decide on a course of action, get their feedback on
which option to pursue. Really listen to what they offer and act on
their input. Be open to what they say; often their suggestions will
Offer variety: In the past, the Baby Boomers were interested in
job status and climbing the corporate ladder. In contrast, Gen-Xers
are interested in equality, flexibility, and a lattice corporate
structure. The Gen-Xer is not impressed with status symbols like
title or position; rather, they want an uncensored corporate
structure coupled with opportunities to learn new skills. When given
the choice, they prefer flex hours and the ability to telecommute
over a higher salary.
Therefore, rather than restrict your Gen-X workers from trying new
things, encourage it. Offer them opportunities to learn new skills,
to job share, and to assist in projects in other departments. Gen-Xers
yearn for increased intellectual stimulation. If you keep them “in a
rut,” doing the same thing day in and day out, they’ll quickly get
bored. That’s when they start cyberloafing and looking for
employment elsewhere…or mapping out their own entrepreneurial
vision, which could be in direct competition with you.
Additionally, since Gen-Xers were raised in the information age,
they expect to have the latest technology tools to do their job.
Remember, this group was the first to do their high school papers on
the computer, and they are technically savvy. To not provide the
latest and greatest technology is equivalent to handing them the
Work in teams: Teaming and the ability to bond with others is
core to the Gen-X work ethic. And while many organizations give lip
service to team-building training and activities, most organizations
are rigidly bureaucratic and employees do not feel valued as a
person. In fact, the “good old boys,” “bureaucratic cultures,” and
the “double standard” of yesteryear are seen as draining,
egocentric, and childish to Gen-Xers. That’s why companies need to
focus on creating a truly team-focused environment to keep these
much needed workers.
For example, when it comes to leading Gen-X workers, managers need
to do more than just manage; they need to work alongside the
employees doing the daily activities. Also, assign teams within the
department to complete projects. For each new task or project,
rotate the team leader so that everyone has the opportunity to
develop his or her leadership skills. Additionally, have people work
in dyads, where one team member helps another on a project to build
internal working relationships. Finally, allow the teams to
self-manage. After all, you hired them because of their expertise,
so let them put that expertise to work and see the project through
from beginning to end. The more you allow your Gen-X employees to be
a part of the team and to participate as equals, the more likely
they’ll be to stay at your company.
Build a strong corporate communication process: In most
companies there’s no open debate, and employees are always “watching
their back.” They know that if they say something out of turn,
they’re likely going to get projects they don’t want or they’ll get
dinged on their performance review. Granted, some companies have
attempted to create an environment of open communication, but when
employees do speak their mind, the company doesn’t listen.
refuse to tolerate such an environment. They know it’s hard to be
productive and motivated when trying to always “watch your back.”
And while previous generations tolerated office politics and
egocentric executives, the Gen-Xers respond by sending out resumes
and seeking employment elsewhere.
Therefore, to keep Gen-Xers on staff, you need to encourage debate
and opposite opinion. Get people to open up, discuss problems, and
express opinions. Then, put in the processes so the ideas and
opinions get acted upon. Equally important is to create an
environment of instant feedback. Rather than force people to wait
for feedback for days, weeks or until the yearly performance review,
communicate regularly. Give updates on ideas that were generated,
projects that were worked on, and anything else that impacts the
company or employee. Just as Gen-Xers like to text message their
friends because it offers instant communication, they expect the
same communication speed from their managers.
New Generation of Change: According to the US Census Bureau, the
number of small businesses is growing. And Gen-Xers are starting to
realize that smaller companies offer more in the way of opportunity,
job fulfillment, and job satisfaction. As such, Gen-Xers are giving
up the larger paychecks that large companies offer for a smaller
company that is Gen-Xer friendly and more aligned with their values.
world is changing at warp speed, and Gen-Xers are at the soul of
that change. So if your organization is to survive long-term and
avoid extinction, you must change and become Gen-Xer friendly—now!
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