Flexibility is the key to managing Generation-X
WHEN Generation-Xers started entering the workforce back in the mid-to-late-80's and early-90's, they began to develop their own work culture and work ethic.
Many from the previous generation - the Baby Boomers of the post-World War II generation - misunderstood this culture and work ethic as portraying a lazy generation, with low company loyalty and little ambition.
The Baby Boomers were wrong. As it turns out, this impression was exactly that - a misunderstanding. Gen-Xers are proving to have ambition, drive, and ability - they just have a different attitude towards work, and a different opinion about how to work.
Different work attitude
While Baby Boomers see hard work as starting early, finishing late and spending the odd weekend in the office, Gen-Xers are looking for work and life balance. They believe in being measured by results, not by hours spent in the office.
They want time to "play", the choice to, say: "Come in late after spending the morning with their kids."
A major contribution to the difference in work attitude between Baby-Boomers and Generation-X, is that Gen-Xers watched their parents dedicate their lives to their work and to companies they assumed would be their life-long employers, only to be retrenched, suffer a burnout, or sacrifice quality time with their families.
They saw their parents' work ethic as a "live to work" approach, with little lifestyle balance. By comparison, Gen-Xers believe that you work to live, and that work is a means that allows you to enjoy your leisure time.
It is not surprising that this experience has produced a generation with much skepticism towards large organizations and institutions and little tolerance for bureaucracy and "playing by the rules". Generation-X is not about being disloyal to one's employer, it is about being loyal to one's self. They will not commit blindly to an employer, but instead ask "What's in it for me?"
As Generation-Xers make their mark on the workplace, businesses are being forced to rethink everything from management techniques to remuneration packaging. It is no use saying "accept things the way they are or go some place else" because, in most cases, they will go some place else.
So, what is the key to managing Generation-X? The key is flexibility. Companies need to adopt a flexible outlook to developing employees' work contracts, rather than a "One size fits all approach". Where an "8am to 6pm, five days a week" contract would likely suit most Baby Boomers, employers may need to provide flexi-hours to Gen-X employees. This approach will need to be carefully managed, however, since the more traditional Baby-Boomers may see the Gen-Xers as shirking responsibility and this can create resentment. If issues are not addressed as soon as they arise, Baby Boomer workers may assume their tele-commuting young colleagues aren't working at all.
A common mistake companies make with the Gen-Xer is to assume that money is the key to their happiness. However, money is not the driving force for Gen-Xers and companies that try to coerce them by throwing money at them will not see results.
From our experience at DBM in aligning workforces to meet changing business needs, we perceive that the more important demands of Generation-Xers include such requests as:
?A challenging and interesting role and a choice of assignments. Being entrepreneurial and creative, Gen-Xers are looking for something to sink their teeth into, something that will hold their attention and present a challenge.
Ensure that during performance and/or planning meetings, Gen-Xers are given the opportunity to put forward their work-style preferences. Such an approach demonstrates to the Gen-Xer that they are able to contribute to the direction of their role within the organization.
?A fun work environment. A part of Gen-X's search for balance includes making work "fun", not a chore. We are seeing this reflected in, for example, casual business attire and (increasingly) interviewees asking questions such as "What is your corporate culture?" While the workplace doesn't need to be turned into a circus, management can certainly turn an open mind to some initiatives.
?Career development opportunities. For Generation X, job security lies not with their employers, but in themselves and in having more career choices available to them. In addressing this, ongoing career development is a major driver, and if their employers are not living up to expectations, they can and usually will simply find a new role.
?Bottom-line impact. Gen-Xers are entrepreneurial in style. They thrive on diversity and high levels of responsibility and are constantly looking for channels to allow for creative input. And if their employers won't give them what they want, they will quickly move on to others who will.
By ensuring that Gen-X employees, and in fact any team members, have the channels and support to brainstorm, test and, when appropriate, implement new ideas, you will be guaranteeing that you are getting the most out of your team.
?It's what you know. In today's era of knowledge management, Gen-Xers rule the roost. They hungrily seek to hone their talents and consider each job an opportunity to add to their skills arsenal.
They are well aware that it's their own responsibility to seek out opportunities. Having never relied on their employer for job security, this group ensures that they maintain their employability through ongoing learning and development.
Gen-Xers are keenly aware that to remain employable they must keep their knowledge up-to-date, and will actively seek an employer who will provide such a platform. From an employer's standpoint, providing learning and development opportunities for employees is a strategy in itself that will increase retention and enhance recruitment efforts.
?The option to work from home. Generation-X was the first generation to see their mothers enter the workforce en masse. They experienced first-hand the effects of parents working long hours and having less time with their families.
As a result, a balanced work-family life is extremely important to them, and many are demanding, and even expecting, a work-from-home option from their employer. As mentioned earlier, it is important to carefully manage any such initiatives to ensure that all employees are provided with the same options.
?Leave without pay/sabbaticals. These days it seems that there isn't a 20-to-30-year-old around who has not taken or is about to take an extended overseas holiday.
While offering leave without pay or sabbaticals may mean losing your best and brightest for a time, it can lead to long-term commitment on their return. We do recommend, however, that you put a cap on the length of time. While you may be able to manage for three to six months without a specific employee, one or two years is invariably a tall order.
?Agreement on clear goals against which progress can be measured. Gen-Xers have a low tolerance for bureaucracy and are unlikely to put in long hours for political gains.
To them, as long as their work gets done, it should be of no consequence whether they come in at 10:30am today or leave at 3:30pm tomorrow, as long as they complete their projects within the agreed time frame. Having clearly defined goals provides for such an approach and allows work to be measured to ensure that everything is on track to meet your business requirements and the requirements of your employees.
Gen-Xers are certainly not a unique generation in that the happier they are, the more productive they become. Across the board, employees need to be satisfied with their work contract in order for them to produce their best work.
Companies must be aware of this important fact, and ensure that their employee-related policies address it in recruitment interviews, performance appraisals, and at any other relevant time.
The results: any progressive organization that is offering these options to their Gen-X employees, and to all employees, will reap significant benefits. The organization can expect to see measurable results, directly related to its bottom line, through improvement in such areas as employee retention, team productivity, and even better quality work.
At DBM we are beginning to see increasing evidence of this type of progressive thinking, especially when we talk to our clients about their retention strategies. As the Baby-Boomers continue to mature, retire and cut-back, Generation-X will form the majority of the workforce. Subsequently, we will eventually see these innovative management techniques become common practice in the workplace.