August 9, 2017

Solving for Gen. X: Managing the Neglected Generation


I was born in 1979. According to some, that makes me a millennial; others say I am part of Gen. X.

Let me tell you: It’s a lot more fun to be a millennial than it is to be a Gen. X-er. Millennials get all the attention; they are the younger Marcia to our flannel-clad Jan.

In terms of management practice, many articles on the subject zero in on baby boomers and millennials, with nary a mention of Generation X. To an extent, I understand why this happens: The work world of the ’70s is miles away from the world world of today. Still, I can’t help but feel a little hurt by the fact that there are no lists or tomes dedicated to managing me! (See? I am part millennial after all.)

Today, I’m going to write the management guide I’ve been waiting for. I’m going to tell you how to manage the Gen. X-er in your midst. Why? Because someone needs to do it! Generation X accounts for almost a third of the workforce. You may be failing a third of your office by not learning how to manage Gen. X. Here’s how to change that:

Generation X and Flexibility

We Gen. X-ers are an adaptable bunch. We knew how to do work before all these fancy computers and iPhones showed up. Whereas everyone in our office under 30 stops working when the internet is done, we Gen. X-ers get to work on things that don’t require the internet, like scheduling meetings or writing offline.

Adaptability is an extremely useful skill in the workplace, and Gen. X has it in spades – maybe because the economy collapsed just as we were graduating college and then again in the middle of our careers. We understand that nothing good lasts forever, whether it’s Kurt Cobain or the Silicon Valley bubble.

How can you use this knowledge to manage Generation X? Here are a few tips:

1. Allow for Gen. X-ers to Manager Their Own Time

Not only will this give Gen. X-ers a sense of control, but also your Generation X employees will probably do a better job of managing their time than you would. They know which tools, both traditional and cutting edge, to use for which job.

2. Let Them Work Independently

You can put a Gen. X-er on a team, but you can’t make them collaborate. For the most part, Generation X wants to work pretty independently. They feel it is more efficient, faster, and encourages innovation. Whether you agree or not, try to avoid putting your Gen. X-ers in long meetings, pairing them up, or assigning them to teamwork-heavy projects.

umbrella3. Encourage Them to Take a Break

Your Gen. X-ers will burn out unless you make them take a break. It might be tempting to suck every minute out of your workaholic, but overworking them will only lead to low-quality results. Focus more on the work they’ve provided and time management skills. 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.

4. Give Them Remote Work and Flexible Work Arrangements 

While millennials may be hitting the point at which they start getting married and having kids, Gen. X-ers 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, this generation is squeezed very tightly. You can keep your Gen. X-ers from getting so exhausted they leave with a few simple tweaks to PTO and by offering flexible arrangements that make it easier for them to manage all their obligations.

5. If They Need Advice, They Will Ask

You’ve probably bent over backward to give your workforce the feedback everyone tells you they need. Well, it may be time to twist yourself 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 offense. They’re a generation of latchkey kids. They can take care of themselves!

6. They Can Be a Bridge Over Troubled Water

The boomers and the millennials don’t always understand each other. One way to ease the tension might be to have a Gen. X-er act as a translator. In communications, millennials mostly skim, while boomers drill down deep into 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 necessary to go deep in key areas.

7. Appreciate the Sound of Silence

You may be used to millennials asking questions and needing to understand a project from all angles before they get started. With Gen. X, however, you’re guaranteed someone who takes the assignment and runs with it, adding a dash of resourcefulness to the mix.

While it’s nice to know an employee is ready to start right away, make sure they are using their time wisely by bulleting out any necessary information in a follow-up email.

8. Encourage Solutions

Look, Gen. X is a cynical bunch. Take it from me: 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. Don’t let us get away with this! If your Gen. X-er is a pain in the morning meeting, take them aside and tell them to offer a solution for every idea they shoot down.

path9. Create a Process

Despite their alternative roots, Gen. X actually respects hierarchy and sort of likes it when you stick to the plan. Keep that in mind, especially as millennials flood the workforce in greater numbers than ever before. As boomers leave, your Gen. X-ers will have to take up the leadership mantle. This may be a tough transition for resourceful, independent workers.

10. Help Them Plant Roots

Most millennials are planning to leave you, at least in the next couple of years. Gen. X-ers aren’t necessarily going to stay for longer, but if you offer them a consistent process, build out a succession plan, help them bridge the leadership gap, and offer them flexible working options, they just might stick around and lead your company into the next generation.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Marenated blog.

Maren Hogan is founder and CEO of Red Branch Media. You can read more of her work on Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and her blog, Marenated.

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Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the global recruitment and talent space. Hogan speaks and writes on all career and workforce related subjects. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies and SMBs around the globe. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B Marketing Agency that serves clients in the U.K., Africa, China, Israel, Europe and North America. Primarily focused on the Human Resources and Global Workforce vendors, Red Branch Media handles clients of all shapes and sizes.
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