GenX Think Tank: What Makes a Productive Workplace

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On our Think Tanks this month we are tackling the components of a productive, happy workplace. We are looking at the topic from each generation’s viewpoint in order to measure what challenges still exist and how to optimize your work environment.

Our Boomer Think Tank and  Millennial Think Tanks have weighed in; now we hear from GenX.

Before I give you the overall insights, here are a few relevant statistics to be aware of.

A recent report by Workplace Research Foundation states that:

  • Increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year.
  • Highly engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity.
  • Companies that foster engaged brand ambassadors in their workforce report an average of 2.69 sick days taken annually per employee, compared to companies with weak engagement efforts, reporting an average of 6.19 sick days.
  • Companies with engaged employees, outperform those without by 202%.
  • Companies who implement regular employee feedback have turnover rates that are 14.9% lower than for employees who receive no feedback.

Our panelists this week included:

Bob LeDrew – Podcaster and communications consultant, The Kingcast

Jason Konopinski – Freelance writer and consultant

Brian Carter – Principle, The Brian Carter Group

Christin Kardos – Freelance social media specialist

Doug Knight – Consultant and principle, Connect the Dots

Sue Spaight – Strategist for a large design firm

Ross Quintana – Strategist, Social Magnets


Primary Insights:

Gen X is Entrepreneurial

Our panel for this discussion was a little unusual in that half of the participants actually worked for themselves – an interesting perspective to bring to a discussion on workplace culture and productivity.

While everyone had their own reasons for building their own business, common threads included

  • Creative drive and a need to forge their own path
  • Desire to work outside of conventional approaches
  • Managers and supervisors didn’t know how to utilize their talents
  • The possibility of creating your own path

“The reason I am an entrepreneur is that I have a lot of interests, and I’m very productive, and I don’t like being limited; I’m not interested in being managed.” – Brian Carter

…But Not Everyone Wants to Go It Alone

For all the excitement that being your own boss can bring, there are other factors that keep Gen X at their current jobs. Sue lives in a multigenerational household, raising her son and acting as the primary caregiver for her aging parent – a situation common to many Gen Xers.

For her, the stability of her job, as well as the ability to maintain a better work-life balance, was one of the main factors in her decision to stay in her current occupation.

Bob, on the other hand, has worked both for himself and as part of larger organization and he found that both situations have their benefits and their drawbacks, but when you find a great work situation it can really work and feel just as empowering.

“The key for me has always been not just to be a part of the right organization but to be the right part of the right organization.” – Bob LeDrew


The Rise of Holacracy and the Role of the Manager

One of the common statements from the participants is that management can make all the difference to your performance at work. A good manager that recognizes your talents and empowers you can make work productive and pleasurable, whereas the opposite can impact your work life at every level.

Tony Hsieh, of, recently introduced a holacracy at his company, but not everyone bought in. What did our panel think of a life without managers?

  • Christin, with her military background, not only had great experiences with managers but also acknowledged that in certain situations having a leader is necessary
  • Jason, as a freelancer, rarely works on his own, collaborating and delivering with a team – always without a manager
  • Doug stated that the shift towards holacracy was more of a result of the overall focus of an organization on culture, not management, and so the removal of these traditional structures is just a progression of the ‘flat organization’ so popular today
  • Bob and Ross pointed out something very important; managers are often required to protect their employees and can burn out, whereas a holacracy (where everyone is equally accountable) can help prevent that


Autonomy is Key

While Millennials often cite mentorship as being a key factor in creating a happy and productive workplace, Gen Xers (who are more settled in their careers and not looking for the same kind of guidance) are looking more for trust, autonomy and the ability to guide their own careers.

This presents itself not just in the expectations around work, but also in the current trend towards offering benefits like unlimited vacation. Both Sue and Jason cited that as a valuable gesture of trust towards employees, indicating that they knew what was best for them and empowering them to make not only the right decisions for themselves but also to ensure they were at peak productivity.

Traditional structures like the 9-to-5 workday are also being called into question. Ross brought up the idea that the workday should be structured around volume and productivity, not just appearing at your desk. By allowing employees to build their schedules around the work they need to execute, as opposed to an expectation set by others, you can help increase their work-life balance and encourage higher levels of productivity.


“Listen to your workers – you’re part of their life. If you realize all of a sudden that they have a life, and you’re only a part of it, then you listen and ask ‘How can I make your work life better?’, which will make their whole life better.” – Ross Quintana


Overall Insights

  • Most standard benefits that employers offer didn’t even make the ‘must haves’ in our conversation. This means that health/dental and regular pay raises are no longer factors in their decisions as they’re considered ‘table stakes; Gen X is looking for more satisfaction from their work
  • Gen X employees want to be empowered to make their own decisions and be trusted to execute on their jobs, and that includes such thing as coming and going as needed, and a lack of dress codes
  • Gen X cares about their work lives, but their priorities lie more in a strong work-life balance to help them enjoy their life to the fullest
  • Gen X enjoys working, but they don’t consider their work to define them as people – only as part of their lives
  • Gen X is looking for the opportunity to define their own job descriptions and explore new tasks to stretch their skills

Watch or listen to the entire hangout on the podcast below:

Photo credit: Late Nights via photopin (license).

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