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Working With Generation X

By Deanne DeMarco
Posted: April 14, 2008, from the December 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

The 75 million baby boomers that make up 45% of the workforce are starting to retire, and in 2007 that rate is expected to hit three million people. The mass exodus of boomers from the workforce will only increase in the next 10 years, so the major question business owners are asking is: Who will replace these retiring workers?
       While logic would dictate the next generation—Generation X, or Gen X, as it’s called—will simply step in to fill the newly vacant roles, the fact is that it is simply impossible for that to happen. Why? Because the Gen X population—those born between 1964 and 1977—totals a mere 45 million people. That’s a deficit of 30 million workers. As one economist from the Office of Labor Statistics has noted, “Over 500 occupations will be adversely affected by the boomers’ departure.” With this knowledge, it’s not hard to figure out that a worker shortage is on the horizon.
       To make matters worse, retaining Gen X employees is a challenge plaguing many companies. A number of research studies suggest that one in five Gen Xers is preparing to leave their current job. In addition, Gen Xers are leaving larger corporations in droves in order to follow entrepreneurial pursuits or join smaller companies, even if it means taking a pay cut. A reason for this could be that, according to exit polls and research studies, Gen Xers are disgusted with the mismanagement of top corporate officials, hierarchical politics, corporate ladders, and the lack of job satisfaction and job fulfillment.
       Many in the Gen X generation are echoing the same message: They want a Gen X-friendly workplace. And that, in fact, is the key to you and your spa retaining these skilled workers so you’re not left in the cold when the labor shortage does hit. Following are four strategies that will enable you to attract the Gen X talent necessary for your spa to stay successful and competitive in the years to come.

Focus on collaborative relationships
       Gen Xers grew up in social conditions very different than those of previous generations. Many were latchkey children, and 50% were raised in single-parent homes. They often spent an excessive amount of time alone, and, as a result, Gen Xers are relationship-builders. In fact, this need for strong relationships touches nearly every aspect of their lives—at home, at work and as consumers. To capitalize on this, businesses need to develop new communication models that include strategies for building together.
       Unfortunately, many managers still don’t use their workforce to collaborate on projects, goals or the development of ideas. Instead, they use coercion, or they dictate what is going to be done. But that approach won’t cut it for the Gen X workforce. Businesses that want to retain these workers for the long haul need to take a collaborative approach to things such as decision-making, problem-solving and product development. Yes, Gen Xers want the spa to do well, but they also want to be a strong voice in taking the business to where it needs to go.
       So, rather than telling your Gen X employees what steps to take to solve a problem, allow them to brainstorm with you to help generate ideas. Or when you need to decide on a course of action, get their feedback on which option they would choose to pursue and why. Really listen to what they’re offering, and act on their input. Being open to what they have to say is important, and quite often their suggestions will amaze you.

Offer variety
       In the past, the baby boomers were interested in job status and climbing the corporate ladder. In contrast, Gen Xers are interested in equality, flexibility and a more lattice-like corporate structure. The Gen Xer typically is not impressed with status symbols such as an important title or position. Rather, they want an uncensored corporate structure coupled with opportunities to learn new skills. When given the choice, they prefer flex hours and the ability to telecommute over a higher salary.
        Therefore, rather than restricting your Gen X workers from trying new things, encourage it. Offer them opportunities to learn new skills, job share and assist in projects in other parts of your spa. Gen Xers yearn for increased intellectual stimulation. If you keep them in a rut, doing the same thing day in and day out, they’ll quickly get bored. That’s when they start cyberloafing and looking for employment elsewhere … or mapping out their own entrepreneurial vision, which could be in direct competition with you and your spa.
       Additionally, because Gen Xers were raised in the information age, they expect to have the latest technology tools to do their job. This group was the first to do their high school papers on the computer, and they are technically savvy. To not provide the latest and greatest technology can be equivalent to handing these workers the want ads.

Work in teams
       Teaming and the ability to bond with others is another concept at the core of the Gen X work ethic. And while many businesses give lip service to team-building training and activities, most organizations are rigidly bureaucratic, which can cause employees to feel as if they are not valued as a person. In fact, the “good old boys,” “bureaucratic cultures” and “double standards” of yesteryear are seen as draining, egocentric and childish to Gen Xers. That’s why businesses need to focus on creating a truly team-focused environment to retain these much-needed workers.
        For example, when it comes to leading Gen X workers, managers need to do more than just manage. They need to work alongside the employees doing daily activities and also assign teams to complete projects. For each new task or project, rotating the team leader so that everyone has the opportunity to develop leadership skills is advisable. Additionally, having people work in pairs, with one team member aiding another on a project, helps build internal working relationships. Finally, allow the teams to self-manage. After all, you hired them because of their expertise, so let them put that knowledge to work by seeing the project through from beginning to end. The more you allow your Gen X employees to be a part of the team and participate as equals, the more likely they’ll be to stay with your spa.

Build a strong corporate communication process
       In most businesses, the environment is typically not one of open debate, creating a situation where employees are always watching their backs. They know that if they say something out of turn they’re likely going to get projects they don’t want or dinged on a performance review. Granted, some companies have attempted to create an environment of open communication, but often when employees do speak their mind, many companies simply don’t listen.
        Gen Xers refuse to tolerate such an environment. They know it’s hard to be productive and motivated when trying to always watch your back. And while previous generations tolerated office politics and egocentric executives, the Gen Xers respond by sending out résumés and seeking employment elsewhere. Therefore, to keep Gen Xers on your spa’s staff, you need to encourage debate and opposite opinions. Get people to open up, discuss problems and express different views. Then create processes so these ideas and opinions are acted upon.
       Equally important is to foster an environment of instant feedback. Rather than force people to wait for days, weeks or even a yearly performance review for feedback, be sure to communicate regularly. Give regular updates on ideas that have been generated, projects that have been or are currently being worked on, and anything else
that impacts the spa or employees. Just as Gen Xers like to text message friends because it offers instant communication, they expect the same communication speed from managers.

The new generation of change
        According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of small businesses is growing. Gen Xers are starting to realize that smaller companies offer more in the way of opportunities, job fulfillment and job satisfaction, and, as such, Gen Xers are giving up the larger paychecks that the larger businesses can offer for a smaller company that is Gen Xer-friendly and more aligned with their values. The world is changing at warp speed, and Gen Xers are at the soul of that change. If your organization is to thrive long-term, becoming Gen Xer-friendly is a great way to be prepared.