Millennials and Baby Boomers get a lot of attention these days as one group surges into the workplace and one prepares to exit. But we often forget that middle set, Generation X, who are stepping into leadership positions and need continuous skills development that engages and motivates them.
Generation X includes people born from the early 60s to the early 80s, which according to the Longitudinal Study of American Youth makes up about 84 million Americans. They’re referred to as Latchkey Kids, Baby Busters, and the Slacker Generation. Today, they’re between 35 and 55 years old.
Gen X struggles with economic security.
Although they’re just now commanding many of the leadership roles in the workplace, they’re already getting squeezed by Millennials. According to a 2015 Pew Research study, Millennials now out number Gen Xers at work by almost 1 million.
Gen Xers are on shaky economic footing as well. In the recession years between 2007 and 2010, this group lost an average of 45% of their wealth. Compared to 28% for Boomers. And according to the 2016 Scottrade Investor Report, almost a third worry about losing their jobs.
As a result, many are looking outside their current companies for opportunity. According to a BBC article, over one third are planning to leave their current employer in the next three years. This is not good news for businesses that stand to lose decades of experience and know-how.
This generation loves to learn.
But there’s an upside. Gen Xers are lifelong learners. According to the Generation X Report, they have more degrees than previous generations. And they often head back to school later in life.
So a good training program geared to their preferences could help keep them on your team, increase their satisfaction and engagement, and enrich your up-and-coming leadership.
Tip 1: Let Gen X learners make their own paths.
Gen Xers are fiercely independent. As the first generation of latch key kids, they’ve been fending for themselves a long time. And because most of them came of age before the Internet, they pull information from a huge variety of sources including books, newspapers, websites, museums, and libraries.
So these folks love self-directed training that offers multiple resources and lets them carve their own trail. They’ll especially take to a program that sets objectives, provides support, and helps tracks activities without dictating how learning gets done.
(Here’s a simple tool for guiding and tracking self-directed learning.)
Tip 2: Don’t waste their time.
Gen Xers are sometimes called cynical, but in truth, they just don’t accept idealistic notions. They’re very practical and have highly tuned BS detectors. They’ll reject training that doesn’t clearly relate to business objectives.
L&D organizations can satisfy Gen Xers’ practicality by letting them learn what’s most relevant to them and finding ways to help them learn through direct work experience. For courses that everyone has to take, make it very clear how the skills specifically relate to work objectives. If you can honestly demonstrate the value of training, you’ll have enthusiastic Gen Xers on board.
Tip 3: Make work into training with stretch assignments.
As natural entrepreneurs, Gen Xers love a challenge. And with a couple decades’ experience under their belts now, they have the tools to tackle some meaty problems for your business. If you’re hoping to develop some of these folks into leaders in the near future, give them stretch assignments.
Gen Xers have a great work ethic. They’ll put in the hours for a meaningful project and they’re laser-focused on results, so they’ll continue working until they get the outcome they want. They also hate inefficiency, so if you need some business process revamping, this group is primed to tackle it.
L&D professionals can work with management to find good stretch assignments and keep track of the new skills employees are developing. It’s also a good idea to let Gen Xers know why they’re getting a particular assignment and what management hopes they learn from it.
Tip 4: Offer time for reflection.
Gen Xers tend to be instrospective. They’re as critical of their own work as they are of others. So they’ll appreciate regular time to reflect on successes and failures.
L&D professionals can help managers encourage post-mortem discussions and ask people to keep a private journal of reflections on each day. Over time these observations will create a long-term picture of improvement and help Gen Xers see the positive results of their work.
Tip 5: Encourage network building.
Since Gen Xers prefer independent work, they may be less likely to form strong network relationships with peers. A training program can encourage these connections through mentorship and coaching.
Gen Xers value mentorship as a path for their own development. And serving as coaches for less experienced folks can increase their sense of engagement. In fact, a study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior found that mentors enjoy greater job satisfaction and career success than non-mentors.
(Learn about a simple tool that gets mentors and learners together.)
Tip 6: Choose technology wisely.
Gen Xers aren’t impressed with technology for its own sake, but they’re very tech savvy. Even though these folks didn’t grow up with computers and handhelds, they’ve deftly adjusted to the ever-changing technical world.
So they’re happy to use computer programs, tablets and other learning software as long as it meaningfully improves their experience. They’ll ignore lumbering management systems that make resources harder to access, but they’ll quickly adopt any innovation that increases their control and independence.
L&D teams need to question whether new technology is truly providing a benefit or just another layer of software.
Tip 7: Recognize specific achievements.
Gen Xers don’t expect a lot of feedback from managers, but they still appreciate it. They especially value recognition based on merit. Keep in mind that these folks don’t accept vague compliments as sincere. If you want to make one of this group feel good, point to a specific action or project and praise that effort.
Of course, broad generalizations about an enormous group of people won’t tell you everything about the specific Gen Xers at your company. But a generation is a group of people who’ve shared similar experiences of the world, technology, and values growing up. And this common background shapes their attitudes toward work and achievement. Practical, results-focused, hard-working Gen Xers will make incredible leaders for your business. Now’s the time to adapt learning programs to their needs and get them ready to step up.
If you have independent learners on your team, check out Pract.us to help them pursue learning objectives, track their accomplishments, and develop strong mentor/coach relationships.