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4 Ways to Retain Gen Xers

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As a Generation Xer, I get this. It's true that we (the one's I know) all have one foot out the door, but what's really stopping us? The knowledge that it's likely more of the same wherever we end up.

4 Ways to Retain Gen Xers

by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

September 24, 2014

The economy’s slow but steady improvement should be good news. But employers may find a cloud lurking behind the sunny forecast: They are at risk of losing some of their most valuable talent — and they may not even realize it.

These aren’t the usual suspects. Instead of the 50-something Baby Boomers and the Millennials in their late 20s and early 30s, I’m talking about Generation X, demography’s long-neglected “middle child.” Numbering just 46 million in the United States, Gen X is small compared to the 78 million Boomers and 70 million Millennials. Yet proportionate to their size, Generation X may be the cohort with the most clout.

Now in their late 30s and 40s, Xers make up the bench strength for management. They are the skill bearers and knowledge experts corporations will rely on to gain competitive advantage in the coming decades. Approaching or already in the prime of their lives and careers, they are prepared and poised for leadership.

Yet their career progress has been blocked by Boomers who are postponing retirement and threatened by impatient Millennials eager to leapfrog them. They’re frustrated – and, having played it safe during the years of economic uncertainty, are now facing what may be their last chance to grab for the golden ring.

A 2011 survey from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) showed that 37% of Gen Xers have “one foot out the door” and were looking to leave their current employers within three years. Ding, ding, ding. The clock is ticking. The U.S. Labor Department’s August Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, popularly known as “the quit rate” because it measures the number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs, is the highest since June 2008, when the economy was in recession.

What can employers do to retain their talented Gen Xers? Here are four options:

Give Xers the chance to be in charge. CTI research found that nearly three-quarters of Gen Xers (70%) prefer to work independently. Among those who like being their own boss, over 80% say the reason is that they value having control over their work. Highly self-reliant, Xers are individual players who “work well in situations where conditions are not well defined, or are constantly changing,” according to a generational report from the Society of Human Resource Management. Placing Xers in charge of high-visibility projects is a way to spotlight their abilities.

Show them the route to the top. Mentoring and sponsorship programs that match mid-level managers with senior-level executives not only provides opportunities to enrich Xers’ career experience; such relationships help pave the path to top leadership positions.

Encourage entrepreneurial instincts. Following in the footsteps of generation-mates like Dell computer founder Michael Dell, chief Googlers Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Sara Blakeley, who created the multimillion-dollar Spanx empire, nearly 39% of Gen X men and 28% of Gen X women aspire to be an entrepreneur. Why not let them test their wings with a company-sponsored venture than risk having them fly the coop?

Offer flexibility. Extreme jobs — characterized by workweeks of 60-plus hours, unpredictable workloads, tight deadlines, and 24/7 availability — are the norm for Gen X, with nearly a third (31%) of Xers making over $75,000 a year slogging through schedules that never stop. Flexible work arrangements, including reduced schedules, are checked off as “very important” for 66% of Gen X women and, significantly, 55% of Gen X men. Even childless employees yearn for better work-life balance to pursue their own interests.

Generation X may feel they’re the “wrong place, wrong time” generation, caught in a chronological squeeze between the Boomers and the Millennials. For smart employers, though, Gen X is in exactly the right place at the right time — seasoned skill bearers and experienced knowledge experts endowed with a work ethic that gives wings to their soaring ambition.

Employers can retain restless Xers by responding directly to their concerns: offering them a chance to test their leadership potential through work-sponsored entrepreneurial opportunities, a safety valve to alleviate the pressures of their extreme lives, and a way to celebrate the varied passions and commitments that make this talented cohort so valuable.

http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/09/4-ways-to-retain-gen-xers/

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Agreed. The grass isn't greener on the other side. It just looks greener from here. But when you get there, the grass you left often will look greener than the one you're now standing on.

Flexibility does the trick for me. I've got a lot of it now both from a timing and work location point of view and that is not something I will give up easily.

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I have a <10 mile commute to work, up a hill and through a few miles of sheep and pig farms. I usually don't think much of it, until the inevitable week every few years when I get signed up for a professional training class in NYC and don't get lodging dollars approved by the travel folk because I live within whatever number of miles of the city. One week of commuting into the city and when I'm back, I could hug those ugly pigs.

Give this up? It would take a lot. I tell recruiters I need a 40% raise to move. I think that's about right.

Edited by intheshadows

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Seems a lot of the jobs (In IT and Telecom anyway) are all these contract positions. 6-12 months, no benefits etc. I hope as the job market improves, they become more scarce.


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Seems a lot of the jobs (In IT and Telecom anyway) are all these contract positions. 6-12 months, no benefits etc. I hope as the job market improves, they become more scarce.

Don't bet on it. Contractors make IT more agile and agility is all the rage in CIO circles these days.

Oh and cloud and analytics and breach disclosure laws, too.

Edited by intheshadows

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it may be a good thing for America that we have a generation of frustrated young people who can't seem to get the cards to fall in the right direction. This dynamic is the mother of innovation. A US passport is a unique tool that enables the holder to travel to dozens of different countries to live, work, learn, and innovate. Most Americans don't even have a passport and even those who do travel rarely outside US borders. The world is your oyster. Use cocktail sauce and lemon if you wish, or come up with a whole new idea altogether.

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Don't bet on it. Contractors make IT more agile and agility is all the rage in CIO circles these days.

Oh and cloud and analytics and breach disclosure laws, too.

It's been my experience (in the bigger corporations anyway) that it takes about 2 months to get a contractor settled. Get them familiar with the network and what's going on etc. So they've basically paid someone 2 months salary with no return. Not only that, the minute a full-time position comes along, they're out of there. I have a hard time seeing how that is beneficial to either side.


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It's been my experience (in the bigger corporations anyway) that it takes about 2 months to get a contractor settled. Get them familiar with the network and what's going on etc. So they've basically paid someone 2 months salary with no return. Not only that, the minute a full-time position comes along, they're out of there. I have a hard time seeing how that is beneficial to either side.

Agreed.

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I've got 21 years with same company. I've thought of leaving and had the chance to leave a few times, but in the end, nothing was enticing enough to get me to make the move. They pay me and treat me well here and I can pretty much do whatever I want as long as my work gets done. There are some things here that drive me nuts, but you're never going to find anywhere that's perfect.

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I've got 21 years with same company. I've thought of leaving and had the chance to leave a few times, but in the end, nothing was enticing enough to get me to make the move. They pay me and treat me well here and I can pretty much do whatever I want as long as my work gets done. There are some things here that drive me nuts, but you're never going to find anywhere that's perfect.

Those kinds of jobs seem hard to come by these days.


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Those kinds of jobs seem hard to come by these days.

They might be harder to come by these days, but I think the workforce mentality has changed as well. I'll tell you what I see with the younger workforce that wasn't around so much 20 years ago. Everyone wants instant gratification nowadays, no one wants to put in the ground work to establish themselves with a company, they walk through the door over valuing their knowledge and capabilities, and if something happens they do not like, rather than try and work it out or just plain suck it up, they leave. But then they find that pattern repeats itself at the next job and the next one after that, never stopping to realize it might be them and not the job. A job is just like a relationship, there are going to be highs and lows. There are going to be times when you're fed up and want to leave, but if you sit and weigh everything out, it's usually not that bad overall. If it truly is that bad, then it's time to leave.

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They might be harder to come by these days, but I think the workforce mentality has changed as well. I'll tell you what I see with the younger workforce that wasn't around so much 20 years ago. Everyone wants instant gratification nowadays, no one wants to put in the ground work to establish themselves with a company, they walk through the door over valuing their knowledge and capabilities, and if something happens they do not like, rather than try and work it out or just plain suck it up, they leave. But then they find that pattern repeats itself at the next job and the next one after that, never stopping to realize it might be them and not the job. A job is just like a relationship, there are going to be highs and lows. There are going to be times when you're fed up and want to leave, but if you sit and weigh everything out, it's usually not that bad overall. If it truly is that bad, then it's time to leave.

There's a lot of truth in that.

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There's a lot of truth in that.

Thanks.

I took a pay cut to come and work for this company 21 years ago, but it's paid off tenfold. I wanted a career change and short of going back to school for 2 or 4 years, this was the only way I was going to get it. I had some knowledge in this field and knew if I applied myself, I could make a go of it. I put my time in at the bottom and slowly worked my way to the top. As of last September, the only two people here with more seniority than me are the two owners. When I started here there were at least 4 guys with 15 years or more with this company. That told me that it was probably a decent company to work for if I put my time in. Two of the older guys retired within 10 years of my starting here and I began my move up the ladder.

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