Overcome A Talent Deficit

The oldest of the 75 million baby boomers, who make up 45 percent of the workforce, are hitting retirement age in 2007. This mass exodus from the workforce will only increase over the next 10 years. Who will replace these retiring workers?

If you assume that the next generation (Generation X, as they're called) will simply step in and fill the newly vacant roles, think again. The Gen X population — roughly, those born between 1964 and 1977 — is a mere 45 million people. That's 30 million fewer workers than in the baby boom generation. And the cohorts that follow Gen X are even smaller percentages of the population. As one economist noted, "Over 500 occupations will be adversely affected by the boomers' departure." A worker shortage seems imminent; at the very least, a worker shift is guaranteed. Changing demographics plus Gen X's very different approach to work equals a personnel puzzle for most companies for the foreseeable future.

A number of studies suggest that one in five Gen Xers is preparing to leave a current job. In addition, Gen Xers are leaving big corporations in droves to be entrepreneurs or to join smaller companies — even if it means taking a pay cut. According to research, Gen Xers are turned off by the mismanagement of top corporate officials, hierarchical politics, corporate ladders, and the lack of job satisfaction and job fulfillment.

A Gen X-friendly workplace will help assure that you're not left behind when the labor crunch hits. Consider these four strategies to attract the Gen X talent you will need to stay competitive in the years to come.


Many Gen Xers were latchkey children and 50 percent were raised in single-parent homes. They often spent an excessive amount of time alone. As a result, today Gen Xers are relationship builders. In fact, this need for strong relationships touches every aspect of their lives — at home, at work and as consumers. Unfortunately, many managers still don't embrace collaboration. Instead, they use coercion or they dictate what is going to be done. But that approach won't cut it for the Gen X work force. Companies should try a collaborative approach to decision making, problem solving and product development if they want to retain this generation of workers. Gen Xers want to have a strong voice in taking the company where it needs to go.

So rather than tell your Gen X employees what steps to take to solve a problem, allow them to brainstorm with you to generate ideas. Or when you need to decide on a course of action, get their feedback on which option to pursue. Really listen to what they offer and act on their input. Be open to what they say; often their suggestions will amaze you.


Baby boomers were interested in job status and climbing the corporate ladder. Gen Xers are interested in equality, flexibility and a lattice corporate structure. Rather than title or position they want an uncensored structure coupled with opportunities to learn new skills. When given the choice, they choose .ex hours and telecommuting over a higher salary.

So offer opportunities to learn new skills, to job share and to assist in projects in other departments. 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.

Additionally, since Gen Xers were raised in the information age, they expect to have the technology tools to do their job. Remember, this group was the first to do their high school papers on the computer, and they are techsavvy. Not providing the needed technology is equivalent to handing them the "want ads."


Teaming and the ability to bond with others is core to the Gen X work ethic. While many organizations give lip service to teambuilding training and activities, most organizations are rigidly bureaucratic and employees do not feel valued as people. In fact, the "good old boys," "bureaucratic cultures" and the "double standard" of yesteryear are seen as draining, egocentric and childish to Gen Xers.

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 the daily activities. Form teams within the department to complete projects. For each new project, rotate the team leader so that everyone has the opportunity to develop his or her leadership skills. Try having people work in pairs, where one team member helps another on a project to build internal working relationships. Finally, allow the teams to self-manage. The more you allow your Gen X employees to be a part of the team and to participate as equals, the more likely they'll be to stay at your company.


In traditional companies there's rarely open debate, and employees regulate themselves, wary of office politics. Some companies have attempted to create an environment of open communication, but often when employees do speak, companies don't listen. While previous generations tolerated office politics and egocentric executives, Gen Xers respond by sending out resumes.

To keep Gen Xers on staff, encourage debate. Get people to discuss problems and express opinions. Then allow the ideas and opinions to be acted upon. Equally important is an environment of timely feedback. Don't wait until the yearly performance review; communicate regularly. Just as Gen Xers like to text message their friends because it offers instant communication, they seek the same communication speed from their managers.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of small businesses is growing. And Gen Xers are starting to realize that smaller companies offer more in the way of opportunity, job fulfillment and job satisfaction. They are giving up larger paychecks that large companies offer for smaller companies that are more aligned with their values. Smaller, more .exible companies like those that make up the bulk of the pool and hot tub industry are perfectly positioned to benefit from this trend.

To survive long term and avoid extinction, become Gen-X friendly.

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