Just when you thought you had figured out how to retain and motivate your staff, everything's about to change. That's because the workforce is changing, and the techniques that have worked in the past with older workers—particularly the Baby Boomers—hold little sway with the generations that follow them: the Gen Xers (roughly those born between 1965 and 1980) and Gen Nexters (those born after 1980). These younger employees come with different perspectives, different needs and different motivators.
Who are these Gen Xers and what are they like? As the children of workaholic baby boomers, Gen Xers are used to spending time alone. Some were "latchkey kids," some the children of divorced parents. They often found connections and comfort sitting in front of a computer. But if they were sometimes deprived of human contact, they most assuredly weren't deprived of technology. Cell phones, microwave ovens, and high-speed Internet connections all provided instant gratification of their whims and needs—and some say left them with notoriously short attention spans.
The manager who understands these tendencies can use them to his or her advantage. Take the solitary upbringing. The long hours spent alone after school left many of these younger workers with a yearning to be part of a group. The coldness and distance of a virtual office holds no allure for them; they want to belong to a corporate family. For them, the ideal (read: most productive) work environment features casual dress and snacks in the break room. But don't confuse casual with chaotic. These workers also crave structure, with plenty of guidance and positive feedback. Often left to their own devices for hours by overworked, absentee parents, Gen Xers hunger for attention. They want to know how they're doing, and they want to be respected for what they bring to the table.
Management by intimidation won't work with Gen Xers, but management by walking around works wonders. Instead of scheduling formal management meetings, catch up with them in more casual settings— meetings in the hallway, in the coffee room, or in their offices. Cater to their need to belong by encouraging them to interact with each other in non-business settings. Above all, resist the urge to micromanage. These workers are used to being responsible for themselves. Attempts to dictate how they do their jobs will trigger fierce resentment. Instead, show these staffers that you trust them and give them plenty of latitude.
Though it may come as a surprise, managers can also use Gen Xers' short attentions spans to great advantage. These workers process information differently than those raised in a pre-technology era. They're great at multi-tasking (and at devising new ways to use technology). Take advantage of this by giving them several projects at one time and giving them full control. Let them determine how they'll tackle the project and accomplish the goals within the deadlines given to them.
When it comes to motivating Gen X—and Gen Next—employees, keep in mind that the term "casual business" does not have to be an oxymoron. It's entirely possible—if not desirable —to run a casual office with incentives like flextime and casual dress without eroding performance and productivity. While it may seem paradoxical, empowering employees in one area actually helps them appreciate structure in others.
Gen Xers want to be respected members of the corporate family, members whose voices will be heard when it comes to decisions that affect their jobs. They don't want to be bossed around by an authoritative figure who manages by fear.When it comes to retaining Gen Xers, the rule is simple enough: If you can let go, they'll stick around.