Nickie Elenor
Written by
Nickie Elenor

In a world where our workforce is more agile, autonomous and disengaged than ever before, Generation X business leaders need to find a way to connect with their future leaders, or risk being left behind.

A recent survey reported that Gen X, typically born between 1966 and 1980, account for 51% of leadership roles globally. The millennial workforce (Generation Y, typically born between 1980 and 1996) has grown to almost 40%, with that figure set to rise to over 50% of the global workforce by 2050. 

Gen X leaders have a huge challenge of their hands if they want to retain their millennial talent and groom them to be their future leaders. 

Changing Perceptions

The stereotype of a Gen Xer is that they are independent, resourceful and self-sufficient, however they may display a disdain for authority, dislike being micro-managed and embrace a hands-off management style. 

Millennials are often portrayed as disloyal, self-absorbed, entitled and lazy. We’re told that they don’t want to work the way Gen X do; they need stimulation, to be challenged, rewarded; and work to be made to feel like ‘playbour’ in order to bring out the best in them. 

You can see why these two stereotypes may clash! 

An alternative view is that millennials want to work to live, be creative, be human, be happy, make a difference, feel appreciated and work for a cause that they care about. 

Maybe the millennials are the ones that have got it right and Gen Xers need to start learning from them before a giant chasm grows between ‘us’ and ‘them’. 

How can we connect Gen X and Y?

Here are a few ideas for you to consider to bridge the gap between your Gen X and Gen Y employees:

  1. Remind your tribe why they show up every day. Give them something to care about.  Make sure the company’s ‘why’ (mission, purpose or vision) is visible and that all employees know that their role plays a part in achieving it;
  2. Share your values. Common values create a connection which goes deeper than just being work colleagues.  Millennials are more likely to engage with a company that aligns with their values (but be prepared for them to stand their ground if asked to do something that conflicts with them!);
  3. Make them feel loved. Show gratitude and appreciation, often. An employee who feels valued will always do more than one who does not. Make them feel that their contribution matters;
  4. Give all employees the opportunity to grow. Let them show you how good they are. Think about how you stretch them and offer training and development.  Younger workers may be more tech-savvy and enjoy e-learning but try to balance this with social interaction with their peers. Mentoring and on the job training can be invaluable way to transfer skills and forge connections with more experienced staff.  Some employees could benefit from reverse mentoring by millennials on new ways of working;
  5. Be flexible. If the work is getting done, let them work flexibly, however, keep in mind that lone working brings challenges too. Assess the impact of different styles of working on employee relations and productivity. The employees who seem to come and go as they please and work in isolation, with their earbuds turned on may not get on with the workers who work set hours every day and are used to chatting with their colleagues whilst they work; and
  6. Create a place where people want to work. Make sure you foster a culture of positive communication, collaboration and community.  Help them to belong. Consider initiatives to integrate employees across the business at all levels to understand and embrace cultural and demographic differences.

The future of business relies upon the successful transfer of leadership from Gen X to Gen Y. Gen X leaders need to set a clear path for future generations to join them on their journey and prepare them to take over when the time comes.