… But What About Gen X Workers?

What will we do as the baby boomers retire en masse, and take their decades of knowledge and experience with them? And these millennials, who many projections say will soon make up nearly three-quarters of the U.S. workforce—how do we harness their considerable abilities and put them to the best use within our organization?

Organizations everywhere have wrestled with the questions and challenges surrounding these unique groups of workers in recent years.

But there’s another, large group of employees in the middle that may not receive as much attention. Some new research, however, suggests that employers would be wise to focus more on Generation X and the many assets this dedicated cohort can bring to the workplace.

As a card-carrying member of Gen X, I absolutely remember a time when we were mostly thought of as a pretty apathetic bunch with no real work ethic. (Not that we cared about these perceptions or felt like expending any effort trying to change them.) But this new survey, conducted by the Futurestep division of Korn Ferry, finds that Gen Xers—defined in the study as those born between 1965 1980—are actually the most engaged employees in today’s workforce.

Indeed, 52 percent of the 1,070 executives responding to the recent global poll said as much, compared to 23 percent saying they see boomers as the most invested in their jobs, and another 23 percent feeling the same way about Gen Y workers. (The remaining 2 percent felt those fresh-faced, barely-out-of-their teens comprising Generation Z are the most engaged.)

“While members of each generation are critical to the workforce and their diversity of thought brings new ideas and insights to companies, organizational leaders would benefit by harnessing and rewarding the hard work habits of Gen Xers,” says Andrea Wolf, Futurestep’s North American HR practice leader, in a recent statement announcing the findings.

So, what can employers offer to attract these hard workers and provide the perks that make them want to stay?

According to the survey, feeling they have “the ability to make a difference in the organization” was most important to 39 percent of Gen X-age employees in the workplace. That figure is more than double the number of respondents citing “job stability” (16 percent) or “development opportunities” (15 percent) as what matters most to these workers.

In terms of retention, 41 percent of respondents said experiencing “a sense of pride in their work” was what kept Gen Xers in their current jobs, with 24 percent most valuing “financial stability” and 23 percent prizing “company culture” above all else.

And what kind of benefits get those notoriously indifferent Gen Xers revved up about their jobs? Money helps, of course, with 48 percent of respondents pointing to “pay and bonuses” as the most important benefit to employees in this age group, followed by “paid time off,” at 25 percent, and “retirement plans,” at 19 percent.

While Gen Xers might say they want time off, don’t count on them to take it, says Wolf.

“Talk to a Gen Xer about his or her vacation, and they’ll say they’re too busy to take one, or they had to cut it short because of work,” she says. “Employers may want to consider rewards other than extended vacation time to attract and retain this group.”

Too busy at work to take vacation? Thinking about retirement? Wow, there was a time when we were too busy slacking off and obsessing over Seinfeld to even look for a job or consider our financial futures. Gen X has really come a long way.

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