The knowledge that workforces are made up of multiple generations has become a key discussion point for quite some time. Multigenerational workforces have become effective differentiators for any business or employer who recognises and taps into their potential.
These discussions have largely been on the challenges of managing and optimising Boomers (1946 – 1964), Millennials (1981 – 1996) and Gen Z (1997 – 2012).
Curiously very little is spoken of Gen-X. This generation is not aptly discussed, understood, or considered when discussions about the workplace are being had.
The needs of this generation in the workforce appear to be largely ignored or assumed and yet as the Boomers transition out of the workforce, Gen-X has moved and is transitioning into leadership and managerial roles.
To better appreciate this generation, we need to know who they are. Gen-X was the first generation born into a world where their mothers worked and or both parents were working.
They went to school at a very early age or were left with people other than their parents to look after them and in some cases, they took care of themselves and their siblings until their parents came home from work.
Due to this they are largely self-reliant and independent. This is a trait that carries over to the workplace and shows up as people who know what they need to do, when and how to do it and will get work done without much supervision or push.
This also means that they are largely independent thinkers; they will ask questions and will not take anything at face value.
This generation is one of the most highly educated because their parents placed high value on education. Education provided an opening to a better career, more money, and a chance for an improved standard of living.
This generation was raised with little to no technology, however, they tend to be tech-savvy; they are early adopters of technology.
The growth of technology occurred when they were still young enough to embrace it; the advent of the personal computer, DVDs/CDs, the mobile phone, growth of TV and entertainment, and the transition from analog to digital.
Gen-Xers are hardworking, result-oriented, committed to their work, and have a strong sense of responsibility and work ethic. This makes them valuable employees; talented individuals whom we need to pay closer attention to as we consider and plan for the new world of work.
Research undertaken by Pew Research and Project Management Institute amongst others has found that this generation places a premium on meaningful work and not work just for work’s sake.
They grew up watching their parents work a lot for what they consider very little return and so while they do have a well-established work ethic, they want to do work that makes sense to them either at a personal or societal level.
This is a mature generation with various aspects of their life at a midpoint (mid-life). Their careers have progressed significantly, and some are almost at the apex of their professional lives.
They have wider interests beyond their jobs/ careers. They most probably have children who are in high school and or are in college. Their parents are aging and in addition to caring for them, they have added responsibilities for their siblings or other relations.
Safe pair of hands
Balance is therefore very important for them and in deciding how to shape the workplace and jobs of the future, we will need to understand and appreciate where in life Gen-Xers are at so that we can meet their needs while getting the best out of them.
This self-reliant generation tends to crave workplaces that encourage and are designed to allow them autonomy and independence while still having the room to collaborate and communicate directly with others.
This means that they are a dependable, safe pair of hands for most businesses. They can easily bridge the gap between the old and the young.
Gen-Xers will be an important resource in building and transitioning to future-proof businesses.
Ms Mathenge is a senior manager in People and Change with KPMG Advisory Services
E-mail: [email protected]