The Evolving Workforce
by Dianne Michonski Durkin

As the Baby Boomers begin to retire, the percentage of people in their prime working years, generally defined as age 25-54, will shrink. With 77 million baby boomers on the verge of turning 60 and nearing retirement, companies need to consider now what they will do over the next decade as their senior staff - in some cases, those who have created the company’s history - start heading off to the next chapter in their lives.

The worker shortage that will result will present many challenges to companies of all sizes. As the workforce continues to age and as those currently in leadership positions retire, companies must also contend with the leadership vacuum. Skills, knowledge, experience, and relationships walk out the door every time a leader retires. These skilled and knowledgeable employees take time and money to replace. Companies therefore need to groom today’s younger workforce to assume future leadership roles. They also must deal with the immediate obstacles associated with filling positions for which a limited applicant pools exist.

To alleviate some of the pressures associated with the vacuum, we coach managers of large and small companies on how to retain star performers, attract and employ the most talented applicants, create a culture that honors experience, skills and knowledge, and finally, create or enhance a company’s employee, customer and brand loyalty, all of which are critical for future growth and profitability of an organization.

Companies need to attract the younger workers, develop their skills and include them in the corporate mission so they will grow, learn and stay with the company. The key question is what kind of leadership do these young, energetic, and eager employees respond to? Let’s start with the Xers.

The “Generation X,” approximately 40 million Americans born in the 1960’s and 1970’s, are now in their thirties and early forties. They are adept, clever, and resourceful. They’re the solid backbone of the workforce, and they’re beginning to move into management positions right behind – or instead of – the Baby Boomers who came before them. They are passionate about being involved in their current jobs, and they want a dynamic, engaging, and nurturing experience at work.

Training and professional development are often key to Xer’s loyalty and job retention. In their quest for personal fulfillment, Xers especially value programs that involve mentoring, strengthening individual skills, and furthering career objectives. They want to learn skills that will help in their business and professional lives. Since many have been tied to computer interactions, personal communications and networking methodologies that help them build better rapport, respect, and trust are critical to their development and will prepare them for the management challengers they will face.

Xers, being somewhat less materialistic than the Baby Boomers, need to keep learning and growing, which, for this group, outweighs pure financial incentives. Whereas the Boomers, as a group, tend to “live to work,” Xers “work to live.” They value their time outside the office and striving to achieve a work/life balance. They will work the long hours to get the job done provided they understand its major benefits to the organization and they have flexibility in scheduling work time so they can attend children’s plays, soccer games etc.

Nexters/Millenials/Gen Ys have been called the baby boomlet. Some 72 million strong, they began to become adults at the turn of the millennium. Like their parents, the Boomers, the Nexters make up almost a third of the population.

The Nexters, the most recent college graduates entering the workforce, believe hard work and goal setting are the tickets to achieving their dreams. Not satisfied with the slow route to the top, a majority of Nexters want to be assigned interesting and challenging work immediately. These young employees, sure of their skills and with an eye on their careers, want to be involved in management decision-making. The leadership style that works best with these very goal-oriented individuals is as follows:

First, leaders and managers need to clearly articulate the overall goals of the organization and more importantly help these individuals understand how their positions and contributions directly relate to the overall success of the organization. These individuals need to feel they are contributing and making a difference while at the same time personally growing. They want to be on a winning team.

Secondly, leaders and managers need to build a culture of recognition. Dedication and loyalty will exist amongst these generations provided they feel their efforts are recognized and valued. Immediate and consistent gratification for these individuals is necessary. Because of their computer backgrounds and their internet savvy, they are very accustomed to receiving instant results. This carries over into the workplace and the ways in which they want to be rewarded and recognized. Instant gratification is important when a Nexter has done an exceptional job on a project or in a difficult situation. They appreciate a small reward with a Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts gift card for themselves or McDonalds certificate they can enjoy with their children. The rewards do not have to be large however they need to be frequent. It is also important to note the rewards are no substitute for the personal recognition with simple words like, “Great job on that project” or the most underutilized words in the English language, “Thank you, for all your help and a great job.”

Next, leaders and managers need to strive to create a balanced culture. This generation values family time, keeping themselves healthy and fit, and time to do philanthropic efforts that make a real difference in the world including instituting new recycling techniques, stopping world hunger and supporting relief efforts. Like the Xers, they will work on their schedules and feel committed to get the job done on time and right. They will remain accountable provided they have the flexibility.

Learning, growing, and being recognized for their efforts are essential and critical for these generation’s long relationships with organizations. In addition to offering training programs that help them grow personally and professionally, enabling employees to work in teams on major company initiatives, and offering a mentoring program creates employee loyalty.

Throughout college, this group was assigned projects in teams. This is an environment they thrive in. Combining the talents of numerous individuals to achieve a common solution to any goal, they will all act responsibly to get their segment of the project done without a designated leader. In fact their preference is to work as a true team without an authoritarian. This is very different from Veterans and some Boomers who clearly want to know who is responsible.

Mentoring also needs to have a similar thrust. Nexters love to learn from many. Once they’ve learned the knowledge, expertise, or social skills from one person, they want to move on to the next person and see what can be offered and learned. This group is a sponge for knowledge and will take it from all kinds of sources. Our advice is to be sure the mentoring programs offer a variety of people with different talents, styles and expertise.

Pairing Veterans and Baby Boomers with Xers and Nexters to pass on their knowledge and expertise before leaving the company allows for wonderful communication and the building of rapport, respect and trust. All of which add to developing a culture of mutual respect, admiration and creditability.

Dianne Durkin is president and founder of Loyalty Factor, a training and management consulting firm based in Portsmouth, NH, and author of The Loyalty Advantage. Loyalty Factor increases corporate productivity and profitability by providing individually tailored programs that enhance employee, customer and brand loyalty. Please call 603-334-3401 or visit for more information.

The Loyalty Advantage:
Essential Steps to Energize Your Company, Your Customers, Your Brand

by Dianne Michonski Durkin

(One of The Best of 2005! ed.)

Many more articles in Motivation & Retention in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2006 by Dianne Durkin. All rights reserved.

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