Small Business

What Makes Gen-Xers Tick?


By Bret Lamperes The No. 1 problem I hear about from other business owners is how difficult it is to hire and retain good employees. And, nowadays, most of these employees happen to be from Generation X, the post-baby-boomers born during the 1960s and 1970s.

To hire and retain Gen-X employees, you need to understand their perspective, figure out what drives them, and learn to design a program that will help retain them. I understand that I'm making generalizations that don't hold up with every employee, but if I treat each employee with respect and try to understand their motivations, then I'm ahead of the game.

Owning a moving company, I'm constantly left with questions about Gen-X. How do you motivate those who are unmotivated? How do you retain the uncommitted? And how do you push people to excel who are content to do the bare minimum?

INTERNALLY DRIVEN. As I searched for answers, I thought about people who deal with Gen-Xers on a daily basis and who are getting the results from them that I desired. If anyone understood this group, I thought, it would be the folks coaching athletes, many of whom are in that age group. That led me to Rick Pitino's book Success Is a Choice. Pitino coached the University of Kentucky Wildcats to a spectacular 1996 NCAA basketball championship and to the final round of the 1997 NCAA tournament before making his leap to the National Basketball Assn.'s Boston Celtics. Here was a man who had some answers to my Gen-X questions.

Reading Pitino helped me clarify some basic thoughts. Like most business owners, I'm internally driven and motivated. But to have this internal drive, I must first have self-esteem. You can have self-esteem only if you like who you are and the people around you know you and also like who you are. You can't get the maximum out of yourself and certainly can't get the maximum out of Gen-X until you achieve these things.

Pitino wanted his players to set goals for athletic and academic achievement, to have a consistent work ethic, and, as a team, to be a close-knit "family." The place to start, according to Patino, is creating that close-knit group and learning to understand each other's backgrounds. This builds the self-esteem and sense of self-worth of each individual in the group. Only then can you push people to drive themselves for the good of the team.

UNDERSTAND THEIR GOALS. At Dandelion Moving & Storage, we use a survey to try to get to know each employee. We ask about their background and their goals. Many Gen-X workers don't have very specific goals and don't articulate the reasons why they're working. You need to help them focus on their goals. Make their goals your own. If they understand their goals and achieve them, then they're truly working for themselves. Ultimately, you want them to work for themselves and not work for you.

Some Gen-Xers would rather have a paid day off than a 401(k). I set up a simple IRA at my company. The employees appreciated it, but they would rather have more vacation days -- something to keep in mind when you plan your benefits.

Another important thing I've learned about the Gen-Xers who work for me is that they require daily recognition for a job well done. This does wonders for their self-esteem. So try using carrots rather than sticks. Motivate Gen-Xers with things placed in front of them daily. Motivate with rewards rather than punishment.

SECRET ADMIRERS. We have a daily recognition program called Dandy Bucks. We give these out when an employee does an above-average job or performs his or her duties with the company and team in mind. Employees can redeem Dandy Bucks for shirts and gift certificates or they can bank them for a paid day off. Our crew leaders give them to their crew members. The office gives them to the crew leaders. We even have secret customers with Dandy Bucks who give them out to one or all of the crew members who impress them.

Working with Gen-X employees can be rewarding or frustrating. But we all have the ability to understand younger employees, learn ways to motivate them, and be satisfied with the results. I found it particularly helpful to switch hats from manager to coach. Make your employees' goals your own. Find ways to recognize people daily. Create benefits that the employees want.

We haven't found all the answers, but I think we're on the right track. Let me know if these ideas -- or others -- work at your company! Bret Lamperes is an

entrepreneur in Northern Colorado. He owns Dandelion Moving &

Storage, Dandelion Mini-Storage, and DickerABid.com


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