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Nicky Little


Director and head of consulting

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Talking about my Generation X


How can you make sure that your Generation X employees benefit from learning and development opportunities? Nicky Little, director and head of consulting at Cirrus, considers how we can keep this core group motivated.

Millennials are rarely out of the news these days, and we hear a lot about what they want from work. And while it’s important to consider their needs, it’s also important to think about how we engage and motivate other generations, too. So I’d like to take some time to look at my generation – Generation X.

Roughly speaking, Generation X-ers were born between the mid-1960s and the beginning of the 1980s. We follow the Baby Boomers and precede the Millennials. We may not qualify as digital natives, but we were around for the birth of the internet and we’re pretty comfortable with technology.

Many of us benefitted from free university education. Commonly-cited characteristics of Generation X include self-reliance and freedom-seeking. We are hard-working and we like to make our own decisions. A lot of us are entrepreneurial. Some people describe us as cynical. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Generation X does of course share traits with the other generations who work alongside us.

As we deal with the increasing pace of change in our ever-changing world, there is more that unites us than separates us. However, for employers, it’s worth ensuring that you are developing your Generation X employees so they are able to perform at their very best.

What I have observed across my generation is a desire for lifelong learning. There is some evidence that Generation X and Baby Boomers feel a bit left out when it comes to learning opportunities.

The recent Generations at Work report from the City & Guilds Group found that 61% of older workers think the UK government’s policies are too focused on supporting young people into work, and 41% think their organisation is more focused on helping younger workers progress than on helping older workers.

So it is very important that we offer our Generation X employees a wide range of learning and development opportunities, and that we communicate these opportunities and ensure they are relevant to where people are in their career paths.

Often Generation X is a very self-motivated group and they tend to take up learning opportunities once they are aware what’s on offer. You may be surprised at some of the things they’re interested in.  

For example, a recently-published Employment Schemes Official Statistics report found that 57,000 workers over the age of 50 have benefited from work experience since 2011. Official statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions show that 1 in 10 people participating in work experience in the UK are aged 50 or over.

Work experience is not just for the young – older, experienced people can learn a lot in new environments, too.

At Cirrus we often use ‘disruption’ techniques.

This involves taking experienced corporate managers out of their comfort zones and giving them a real-life challenge as part of a charity or community group. They return to their day jobs reinvigorated and with a more agile, open-minded approach to problem solving.

For Generation X employees in management roles, consider are the new government-subsidised management apprenticeships. Don’t be put off by the word ‘apprenticeships’ in the title – these are not just for the young and inexperienced.

Experienced managers can really benefit from structured learning which leads to an internationally-recognised diploma. 

When it comes to actually designing and delivering learning, recent research from the University of La Verne into generational differences in learning style acknowledges that while differences do exist, it is not necessary to focus on these in design and delivery. 

The researchers urge caution about adopting stereotypes about the generational cohorts in the workplace. Rather, they advise we concentrate on adult learning theory, focusing on transforming theoretical knowledge into real-life application.

In my experience, Generation X employees benefit a great deal from practical learning that can be applied immediately in day-to-day working life. They like to see immediate benefit.

They also enjoy bringing their experience into a learning environment and tend to be open to collaboration with others. Think about how you can encourage different generations to learn together just as you might think about cross-cultural groups.

So in conclusion, it’s important to offer learning opportunities and choice to Generation X employees, but there is no need to design learning specifically for them.

What’s more important is to provide a range of learning and development opportunities which appeal to all adult learners, and to ensure that Generation X employees are aware of these opportunities. They are a valuable and influential group of people. Invest in them to get the best from them.

How to make learning relevant to Generation X

  • Make it collaborative: Encourage discussion and shared problem-solving. Learning opportunities can help Generation X to build meaningful connections with others.
  • Build on experience: Adult learners enjoy relating learning content to their existing knowledge and experience, and taking opportunities to develop this.
  • Encourage active involvement: Immersive learning experiences can increase understanding and improve retention, often resulting in real and lasting benefits.
  • Make it relevant: Adult learners want learning and development to help them achieve their own goals as well as the overall goals of the organisation.
  • Offer variety:  Ensure that you provide opportunities that appeal to different learning styles through a blend of activities such as work experience, face-to-face learning, formal qualifications, webinars and coaching. 

One Response

  1. Thanks Nicky. It’s good to
    Thanks Nicky. It’s good to see encouragement to think more broadly ‘to provide a range of L&D opportunities which appeal to all adult learners’. I was getting a bit tired of a superficial scan of articles stating generational groups as researched hard facts. They are helpful cues, a good start, suggestions. I fear for the stereotypes and unconscious bias, at all levels, they can fuel. I’m really pleased to see some commonsense suggestions and encouragement to disrupt being discussed in your article. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you.

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Nicky Little

Director and head of consulting

Read more from Nicky Little

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