X Marks the Spot: Part Two

in Working

Post image for X Marks the Spot: Part Two

Why is there a talent crisis?  Yes, people are retiring but there are younger employees ready to step into those vacating positions right?  Well, yes — and no.

There’s a talent crisis because the majority of senior and mid-level roles in most organizations are occupied by individuals between 48 and 65 – the KAA-Boomers.  As the largest generation in history, the KAA-Boomers have dominated the workforce for the past 30 years due to their sheer numbers.  Now they’re about to retire, there are simply not enough qualified younger workers available to fill those vacancies.  Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980 – is less  than half the size of the Boomers so for every two Boomers retiring there is only one Gen X available.  And that’s a problem when almost all your leadership team is poised for retirement over the next decade.

In part one I discussed in detail why there are so few highly qualified Gen Xers available. In part two I’ll look at ways to attract and retain the best and brightest in this limited talent pool

Gen X’s attitudes to work

Generation X came of age during the women’s movement and were the first generation of children to have two working parents. These were latch-key kids who, from an early age, were independent and self sufficient. They know how to look out for number one. As teenagers they rejected the disco/pop culture of their older siblings and embraced the punk movement and that rebelliousness is reflected in the workplace as Gen Xers often reject the hierarchy, bureaucracy and the time-honoured way of doing things.

They’ve seen their parents work long hours and having to sacrifice their personal lives for their careers, only to be downsized after decades of loyal service. As they were beginning their careers, they too fell victim of corporate slashings and lay-offs so it’s not surprising they feel no loyalty to an employer.  Their focus is on being employable, so they seek training and development opportunities and will likely switch companies every few years to broaden their experience.

Typically, a Generation X employee is highly educated, technology literate and fiercely independent (give them a project and leave them alone to do it). Though they have a strong work ethic and want successful careers, they also want to be engaged parents and have active social lives.  As a result, they expect significant workplace flexibility.  We can all thank Gen X for inventing the term work-life balance.

And most importantly of all, they’re fed up waiting for the Boomers to retire so they can at last move up the corporate ladder and gain the senior experience they so desperately want.

How to attract and retain them

  • • Need to feel they are constantly adding to their skills set
  • • Project work and self managed teams
  • • Move them sideways rather than up (or nowhere)
  • • Give them real flexibility in hours and remuneration packages
  • • Family friendly policies for women and men
  • • Give them mentors from their own generation

Generation X need positive validation for their work or they will not hesitate to quit their jobs. They hate being micro-managed and want independence in their work, which may explain why so many of this generation have turned to entrepreneurship.  In fact, Gen X represents the largest group of entrepreneurs in history.

Generation X’s assets are their adaptability, technological literacy, independence and creativity. Generation X leaders thrive on change, are fair, competent and straightforward — sometimes brutally honest — are results oriented, and see leadership as nothing magical. However, these managers do have liabilities, including impatience (particularly with authority), occasional cynicism and poor people skills. Messages that motivate Generation X managers emphasize independence, reward for merit not years, minimizing rules and bureaucracy, and informality and common sense.

To retain them, offer them the benefits that they see as valuable to maintaining their lifestyle, and adjust your management style to get the most from them.

Here are some suggestions:

Offer flex time, telecommuting and other benefits

Offering a variable work schedule–flexible hours or working from home–goes a long way toward attracting and retaining Gen X talent. Flex time lets employees avoid rush hour traffic, attend a child’s event, or volunteer.

Gen Xers are highly proficient with e-mail, SMS messaging, Skype video calling, blogs, forums and virtual online workrooms, they don’t see a need to be physically present in the same office to collaborate, solve problems or produce products.

Provide independence

Gen X workers are highly creative, productive and independent. They work best when handed a task and given little oversight, which can be unnerving to executives used to micromanaging.

Offer educational and advancement opportunities

Companies can motivate and retain Gen Xers by offering career growth or advancement opportunities and personal acknowledgement, not necessarily a bigger salary.


Create a “fun” work environment

Employers who embrace a fun, rather than traditional or conventional, company culture create a higher rate of job satisfaction with younger employees. What does fun mean? To Gen X, it means converting the break room to a game room with video games and foosball. It means periodically bringing in a massage therapist for chair massages, an ice cream cart for sundaes, or a rolling barista for onsite lattes. It means setting up “work vacations” where a team gets to work on a project from a vacation house by the beach.

Relax the dress code while you’re at it.

AsKAA-Boomers leave the work force in great numbers, employers will be forced to shift habits, compromise and appreciate the values that Gen X embrace.

Barbara Jaworski is the founder and CEO of the Workplace Institute and developer of the Older Workforce Strategy Toolkit which helps organizations manage their workers, the KAA-Boomer transition and develop an older workforce strategy. She is author of two books in the KAA-Boomer series and co- organizer of the Summit on Mature Workforces taking place in Alberta. Barbara founded the Best Employers Award for 50-Plus Canadians and is recognized as a leading expert on baby boomers in the workplace. She can be reached at bjaworski@workplaceinstitute.org

Leave a Comment


Previous post:

Next post: