Are you facing a looming Gen X retention challenge?

Gen x retention

Take a look around your office. How many in leadership positions are in their late 30s to early 50s? Do you find that many of your leaders are either high performing Millennials or trusty Baby Boomers? If you do, you’re not alone!

According to a recent article on HBR, Generation X (those born from the mid ‘60s to the early ‘80s) are the “leap frog” generation at work, often being overlooked for promotions and leadership roles.

Why is Gen X being overlooked?

The workplace of today is unique. We see that Baby Boomers are staying in the workplace longer than their predecessors who traditionally retired at 60. And we see that Millennials have the drive and digital skills, as well as character developed during the recession years, to take on leadership positions much earlier than their predecessors.

This leaves a generation in the middle who still have a couple of decades at work but find themselves competing against both Baby Boomers and Millennials for jobs and promotions.

Research shows that Gen X employees are consistently promoted 20 – 30% less often than Millennials.

Loyal, hard-working and humble employees

According to Wikipedia, guides regarding managing multiple generations in the workforce describe Gen Xers as: independent, resourceful, self-managing, adaptable, cynical, pragmatic, skeptical of authority, and as seeking a work life balance.

In the 2008 book, X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking, author Jeff Gordinier describes Generation X as a “dark horse demographic” which “doesn’t seek the limelight”. Gordiner cited examples of Gen Xers’ contributions to society such as: GoogleWikipediaAmazon.com and YouTube, arguing if Boomers had created them, “we’d never hear the end of it”. In the book, Gordinier contrasts Gen Xers to Baby Boomers, saying Boomers tend to trumpet their accomplishments more than Gen Xers do, creating what he describes as “elaborate mythologies” around their achievements. Gordiner cites Steve Jobs as an example, while Gen Xers, he argues, are more likely to “just quietly do their thing”.

In the United Kingdom, a 2016 study of over 2,500 office workers conducted by Workfront found that survey respondents of all ages selected those from Generation X as the hardest-working employees in today’s workforce (chosen by 60%). Gen X was also ranked highest among fellow workers for having the strongest work ethic (chosen by 59.5%), being the most helpful (55.4%), the most skilled (54.5%), and the best trouble-shooters/problem solvers (41.6%).

Clearly, hard-working Gen X employees are worth retaining. The key is to ensure that they know they know they are valued, and to reward them fairly for their hard work and reliability.

How to retain Gen X employees

You’ve heard the saying “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, right? Well when it comes to managing Gen Xers, it’s important to grease the quiet wheels, too.

Here are some ways to help retain those valuable Gen x employees:

Collect and share feedback often: Just because these employees are independent, doesn’t mean they don’t value feedback. Use an objective, real-time feedback platform as part of your performance management strategy, and you’ll be able to easily collect and share feedback from each employee’s managers, peers, and cross-functional colleagues. Then share the positive comments and reviews.

Help them try something new: Give Gen X employees the opportunity to take on new projects and gigs – but be wary of overloading these hard workers.

Be objective when promoting: Look at previous reviews and experience when promoting internally. It’s easy to be dazzled by charismatic Millennials or star struck by experienced Baby Boomers. Remember that Gen Xers bridge the gap between the two and could be perfect for getting the best out of all generations.

Personalize learning and development: Remember that your training is aimed just senior leaders and young digital natives. There’s a group of people in the middle who have their own ideas and preferences for learning – find out what these are!

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