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Gen X at Work: How To Engage Them

When was the last time you read an article about how digitally savvy Gen Xers are? We’re willing to bet it hasn’t been any time recently, if ever. That’s because Millennials are the ones we think of as being early tech adopters and avid social media users. But you might be surprised to learn that 54% of Generation X leaders consider themselves to be knowledgeable about tech – just two percentage points behind Millennials.

Despite their knowledge and experience, however, these seasoned workers are being promoted less often than their younger counterparts. And it’s not just happening with tech jobs. Gen X workers, who are in their prime and should be at the height of their careers, are increasingly overlooked for advancement opportunities.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that this generation is the least engaged at work.

The Gen X Engagement Disconnect

Born between 1965 and 1980, Generation X grew up alongside technology. They were the first adopters of exciting new innovations like personal computers, the World Wide Web, and cell phones. These seasoned workers are loyal, effective leaders who excel in collaboration and hold a wealth of experience and knowledge.

Gen X should be next in line for the positions currently held by retiring Baby Boomers. But for many, that’s not the case. They have been sandwiched between Baby Boomers who are staying in the workforce longer and the up-and-coming Millennials, and they are increasingly underrepresented in leadership and promotions.

According to Harvard Business Review, Generation X workers have been promoted at rates 20-30% slower than Millennials. Over the past five years, both Millennials and Baby Boomers were more likely to have received two or more promotions than Gen Xers, who received just one promotion or none during that time period.

It’s no wonder people in this generation feel less happy at work, less secure, and less engaged.

What Employee Engagement Looks Like for Generation X

Along with their affinity for technology and openness to new ideas, Generation X workers bring to the table a depth of experience and conventional leadership skills like developing new talent and executing business strategies. They also excel at collaboration across teams and generations as they work together to solve problems and pursue innovative ideas.

All of these attributes make them ideal choices for leadership roles. The problem is that a lot of Gen Xers aren’t happy in their jobs. Many of them are contemplating a job change in pursuit of better opportunities, either with a new employer or as part of the gig economy.

So what can you do to change their minds? Here are five engagement and retention strategies for this generation:

  1. Make objective hiring and promotion decisions.
    Unconscious bias often creeps into the hiring process, causing qualified Gen X candidates to be overlooked. For example, a millennial might be chosen for a technology promotion even though your Gen X employee has the same knowledge and credentials, simply because we tend to think of millennials as more tech savvy. To prevent this, use data and assessments to understand your decision-making process and provide equal opportunities for promotion and hiring to all qualified candidates. Also, consider the leadership value, institutional knowledge, and problem-solving skills your Gen X workers bring to the table.

  2. Offer attractive benefits.
    Generation X workers value benefits that help them feel financially stable and able to meet the needs of their families. According to a MetLife study, better benefits are among the top factors that would persuade Gen Xers to stay in their current jobs. In addition, they are looking for more flexible schedules, remote work options, and more responsibility.

  3. Recognize and reward strategically.
    This generation values feedback from managers and consistent recognition for accomplishment. Consider stages of life and work as you plan your recognition strategy. For example, Generation X workers value flexibility and development opportunities in addition to cash bonuses or stock options.

  4. Leverage technology to supplement traditional learning.
    Because Gen Xers feel comfortable with technology, they appreciate a variety of learning development opportunities. Technology-based learning such as self-directed courses and microlearning modules will be appreciated alongside traditional seminars or on-site training workshops. Personalize the learning experience based on their skills and career goals, and provide opportunities for external learning such as attending a conference or receiving a membership in an industry group or professional organization.
  1. Prioritize communication.
    Open communication is another important factor for Generation X. They value both positive and negative feedback, as well as straightforward communication about company policies, changes, and project direction. Open door policies and consistent reviews are important ways to connect with these workers as you align their work with their passions and strengths.

Generation X wants to feel respected, empowered, and purposeful at work. They also tend to be more loyal than younger generations, but if employers continue to overlook them for advancement opportunities, it won’t be long before they seek out those opportunities elsewhere. The good news, though, is that by reconsidering your employee retention strategies for this generation, you can boost engagement and reward their loyalty with the things that matter most to them.

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