Solving for Gen X: Managing the Lisa Simpson of Generations

By Maren Hogan

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Once again, millennials take the stage ahead of Gen x. 

I was born in 1979; some reports say I'm a millennial, others say I'm Gen X. To be honest, it's a lot more fun to be a millennial than a Gen X-er. Millennials get all the attention, they are the younger Marcia to our flannel-covered Jan.

When management articles are written, we zero in on the Baby Boomers and Millennials, with nary a footnote for the generation wedged in between them, even though we’re roughly the same size when it comes to workforce representation as the millennials are.

Humph. While I understand the impetus, after all, the differences between what the workforce looked like in the 70s versus the way it looks today are worlds apart, I still manage to get my feelings hurt when there are no tomes or lists for me. How to best manage MEEEEEEEE? (see I am part millennial after all).

So I’m gonna write it. Here’s how to manage the Gen Xer in your midst. Why? Because someone needs to write it and we’re a huge part of the workforce. In fact, you might be sending your Gen Xers away with your approach to management. At the very least, these workers are being less developed, less resourced and more overlooked than any other. Here’s how to change all that:

Generation X and Flexibility.

We’re an adaptable bunch. After all, we know how to do work before all these fancy computers and iPhones. We are experts at managing our time because time is still incredibly valuable to us. Here’s a quick example, when the internet goes down in our office, everyone under 30 stops working right away. But the over 30 employees use that time to do a job that doesn’t require the internet; whether it’s scheduling an impromptu meeting or writing offline for some distraction free time.

Adaptability is an extremely useful skill in the workplace and Gen X has it in spades. After all, just when we graduated from college the economy collapse and then in the middle of our careers, it started to collapse again. We understand that nothing good lasts forever, whether it’s Kurt Cobain or the Silicon Valley bubble.

So how can you use this knowledge to manage Generation X?

Allow for time management.

Well, first allow them to manage their own time. Not only will this give Gen Xers a sense of control but they will probably do a better job of it than you will. Because they know which tools to use for which job, both traditional and new media will allow them to strategically manage their workload in a way, not every employee can.

Let them work independently.

You can put Gen X on a team, but you won’t make her drink. For the most part, Generation X wants to work pretty independently. They feel (and this is supported by research) it’s more efficient, faster and even fosters innovation. Whether you agree or not, try to avoid putting your Gen Xers in long meetings, pairing them up or assigning team projects.

Avoid long hours with honesty.

Your Gen Xer will burn out unless you make them leave. While it might be tempting to suck every minute out of your workaholic, just know that not all minutes are created equal. Focus more on the work provided and time management skills and encourage them to go home already! Gen X is pretty cynical, so if you flat out say they aren’t giving you their best because they’re burnt out, they’ll believe you.

Remote work and flexible work arrangements work for their lives today.

If you watch your employees, it might feel like the millennials are the ones getting married and having kids, but your Gen Xers are dealing with all that and more. From second marriages and ailing parents to kids heading off to college or coming home with young families of their own, my generation is squeezed very tightly. Recognize you can keep them from leaving with a few simple tweaks to PTO and by offering work-flex arrangements that make it easier for them to manage all their obligation.

Take a look inside RBM’s work-life balance…

If they need advice, they will ask.

Wait for it…You’ve probably bent over backwards to give your entire workforce the feedback everyone tells you they need. Well, twist yourself back out of that pretzel because Generation X isn’t having it. When they want your advice, they will come to you. If you’re constantly giving them feedback, they might even take offence. We’re a generation of latchkey kids and we can take care of ourselves!

Use them as a bridge over troubled waters.

Let’s be honest, the boomers and the millennials don’t always understand each other. By putting a Gen Xer in as a translator, especially one who sits on the cusp of two generations can help ease the tensions. In communications, millennials (perhaps used to the never ending internet) mostly skim, while boomers drill down deep in one or two areas. Gen X brings the best of both worlds to the table, taking in a lot of information but with the focus to go deep in key areas.

Appreciate the sound of silence.

With Gen x, you’re guaranteed someone who takes the assignment and runs with it, adding a dash of resourcefulness to the mix. You may be used to more questions and a need to understand a project from your Generation Y employees. While it’s nice to know an employee is ready to start right away, make sure to ensure they are using time wisely by bulleting out any necessary information in a follow-up email. Seth Mattison of BridgeWorks explains:

“Growing up in a period when women were entering the workplace in record numbers, while the divorce rate was skyrocketing, many in this generation learned to fend for themselves.”

Encourage solutions.

Look, we’re a cynical bunch and if you don’t watch us, we can become downright cranky. We might make wide-eyed, idealistic workers cry a little bit by shooting down their ideas. But…don’t let us get away with this. If your Gen-Xer is a pain to have in the morning meeting, take him aside and tell him to offer a solution for every idea he shoots down.

Create a process.

For all our alternative roots, Gen X actually respects hierarchy and sorta likes it when you stick to the plan. So keep that in mind. While not everyone likes consistent, regular processes, your Gen X employee just might. This is especially important as Millennials flood the workforce in greater numbers than ever before. As Boomers leave, your Gen X staff are going to have to take the leadership mantle. This may be a tough transition for a resourceful, independent worker.

Help them plant roots.

Most Millennials are planning to leave you, at least in the next couple of years. Research shows that Gen Xers aren’t much better but if you offer them a consistent process, build out succession plan, help them to bridge the leadership gap and offer them flexible working options, you may find that these stretched, squeezed, cynical, resourceful, smart and independent workers might just stick around and help lead your company into the next generation.


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You might like these blog posts How to Boost Your Business and Market Your Brand on a Limited Budget, How To Hire Your First Social Media Manager, 5 Tips for Delegating Like A Pro, and How To Get More Mileage Out Of The Content You Already Have.

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