Viewpoint: How to Engage and Retain Generation X

By John Fish October 25, 2018
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We spend an extraordinary amount of time and resources hand picking the "best and brightest" young people to work for our organizations. And for good reason. Born between 1981 and 2000, Millennials grew up in an age of accelerated technological change. They tend to be tech-savvy and adept at change, an ideal combination for any organization on a quest to innovate, create and challenge the status quo.

But with all the great strengths of Millennials and the attention they receive from the media and Corporate America, it's time for businesses to address the real elephant in the room—Generation X holds the key to bridging businesses from where they are today to where they'll need to be in the future.

Generation X, consisting of individuals between ages 37 and 51, numbers 46 million in the United States, compared to the 78 million Baby Boomers and 70 million Millennials in the workforce. Despite their lower numbers, Generation Xers are absolutely critical to the workforce and the economy because they possess something that technology cannot replace: a wealth of experience. Gen Xers tend to be collaborative and possess traditional leadership skills and a work ethic that companies need in order to gain a competitive advantage. Their years of professional experience means they've likely weathered many storms, gained invaluable experiences along the way, and are well-positioned to take on the majority of the top executive roles at their organizations.

To attain real business value, it is imperative that we do not overlook Gen Xers, but recognize their strengths and empower them to succeed within today's diverse, multi-generational workforce.

While each generation has their differences, one thing is clear: Millennials and Gen Xers will be working side-by-side for many years to come. Now, it is up to business leaders to leverage these unique capabilities to truly innovate.

To retain and develop Gen X talent, employers should:

  • Recognize the value of a seasoned workforce. Gen Xers have paid their dues and hold institutional knowledge that is indispensable to any company or industry. As the bridge between Baby Boomers and Millennials, Generation X drives execution and brings new ideas to reality. We must appreciate and respect the role Gen Xers play or risk losing the value of their leadership contributions to competitors.
  • Provide technology training. Implementing skill development programs can help to ensure that everyone has the tools to compete in today's information age. However, at Suffolk, we've come to find that Gen Xers will not blindly adopt technologies without evidence that new tools and processes will have a positive impact and create real value. Data and metrics are key to helping Generation X realize the significant productivity gains.
  • Find Common Ground. It's important that businesses work to engage employees and foster collaboration between each generation of the workforce. Millennials and Generation X should never be considered adversaries in the workplace – in fact, there is great potential for reciprocal mentorship and coaching between the two to build a stronger, more collaborative environment for all.

To stay ahead, businesses have to leverage their greatest tool – their employees. Organizations that provide nurturing working environments and training opportunities that allow Gen Xers and other generations to grow professionally together will not only survive, but thrive. They are those that have the X factor – Generation X. 

John Fish is the Chairman and CEO of Suffolk, a national building contractor with a vision to transform the construction experience by "building smart."

This article is excerpted from www.ChiefExecutive.net with permission from Chief Executive. All rights reserved.

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