Insights

Are Supply Chain Organizations Neglecting Their Gen X Talent?

August 19, 2019

New research shows Gen X business leaders are being promoted slower than their millennial and boomer counterparts. That has them looking to jump ship. 

Much attention has been given to millennial employees over the years –what attracts them, what causes them to stay in a role, how to manage them differently than other generations of employees. It was a hot topic of discussion at the recent SCMA National Conference. At the same time, more baby boomers are beginning to retire. These two generations represent the back and front end of the Supply Chain industry’s talent pipeline, and they’ve been the industry’s focus. But of course, the demographic picture is broader and more nuanced than just these two generations.

Last week, we wrote an article about the importance of the emerging Generation Z – people born between 1997 or so and the 2010s – to companies seeking to win the war for Supply Chain talent. Hopefully, it helped fill in the generational picture even further.

Now a recent, very interesting article in Harvard Business Review has us wondering – are Gen X employees being forgotten by the industry? If so, what’s the impact on their careers, as well as organizations who employ them – the companies who stand to lose if dissatisfied Gen X’ers begin to jump ship?

At the risk of explaining the obvious, Gen X’ers are generally defined as being born between the mid-1960s and early 1980s – after baby boomers, but before millennials. They also came of age with a reputation for being “unambitious” – a reputation that’s just as outdated as some of the most famous slacker movies (classic though those movies may be).

As we said with our article about Gen Z, these generational distinctions are a bit fraught. Career motivations are different for every person. They’re too complex to paint everyone with the same brush. But when you can marshal enough data, you can start to learn some interesting high-level things about the hopes, dreams, and discontents of a particular demographic. In 2018, HBR worked with EY and The Conference Board to collect and analyze data from some 25,000 business leaders. Those surveyed were from all over the business landscape, but there’s data here that will be useful for Supply Chain organizations looking in the mirror.

Some of the results related to Gen X in the workplace were very interesting, in particular:

  • The majority of Gen X leaders (66%) had either not been promoted in the past 5 years, or had only been promoted once.
  • Baby Boomer and Millennial leaders were more likely to receive promotions (58% and 52% respectively). This is unsurprising for the boomer generation, but it is surprising that a generation younger than Gen X seems to be getting promoted more. It suggests Gen X employees are being “skipped” compared to their counterparts.
  • The data found that Gen X employees are promoted typically 20%-30% slower than millennials are.
  • Generally speaking, Gen X managers have more direct reports than millennial managers at the same level, indicating a higher workload.

This is the situation on the ground for Gen X employees and leaders. But how are they responding to this lack of advancement?

Gen X employees tend to be more loyal to their current employers, with 37% contemplating leaving their current role compared to 42% for millennials. They came of age before the 2008 financial crisis, in a time before the rise of the gig economy, which might account for their willingness to spend longer in a role.

But companies shouldn’t mistake this loyalty for complacency: according to the data, only 58% of Gen X employees feel that their careers are advancing at a good rate, which is significantly lower than the 65% of millennials who feel the same way. Almost one in five Gen X leaders surveyed reported an increased desire to leave their current role (18%).

Many organizations are beginning to reckon with the retirement of the baby boomer generation. They’re trying to attract and retain millennial talent by improving opportunities for career growth. Maybe they should also be doing more to nurture Gen X talent, to avoid losing that all-important middle group within the talent landscape.

As Stephanie Neal, the HBR writer puts it, a significant number of Gen X’ers might be reaching a “breaking point in” their careers. But she identified some key strategies for companies to avoid neglecting Gen X talent:

  • Invest not only in continuing education for employees, but personalize it. Most Gen X employees have developed a broad base of skills, but individual needs and desires vary. Organizations should tailor their talent development to each person. Stay interviews, which we’ve written about recently, are a good strategy to better understand what motivates each individual in your organization.
  • Give Gen X leaders opportunity for mentorship, and not just within the organization. We also recently wrote about the power of mentorship in a Supply Chain career, so we were happy to see HBR highlight the importance of mentorship as well. According to the research, a majority of Gen X leaders craved mentorship outside their organizations, which is enabled by things like industry conferences and professional groups. Investment in these opportunities not only helps with retaining Gen X leaders, it also offers chances to expand your supplier network or find new business.
  • Hire and promote based on data, rather than gut feelings. Hiring managers often work hard to try to eliminate unconscious bias from the hiring process, but ageism often goes under the radar. Applying stereotypes to a certain cohort introduces bias that harms your process and leads to dissatisfaction. Neal uses the example of assuming that a millennial would be better at a digital marketing role than a Gen X employee. Decisions based on data such as assessments and quantifiable achievements will always be more successful than those based on stereotypes.

It’s a good start, but maybe this is issue deserves an even closer look. If we may add another tip: avoid stereotypes. Data surveying the preferences and mindsets of a large group of people can be instructive, but don’t assume that every Gen X employee is wired the same way.

What do you think? Are there any specific talent retention strategies for individuals in the Gen X cohort? Are you of this generation, and if so, how do you feel about your career prospects? Let us know in the comments!

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