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Last updated August 23, 2016

When it comes to volunteering, Generation X volunteers far out-number those from any other generation. Given that their large-scale contribution is often essential for your organisations success, it’s important to understand what makes them tick and how you can make the most of their involvement.

Who is Generation X?
While there are no definitive dates for any generation, Generation X largely refers to people born between 1965 – 1976. That means anyone in their early 40’s through to early 50’s can be categorised as the X Generation, and in New Zealand, that means they are likely to have school-aged children and a mortgage.

Generation X was the first generation born after the post-war Baby Boomers, and their characteristics have been shaped by massive societal changes that occurred during that time.

Generation X is:

As Generation X’ers came of age, more and more women were entering the workforce. It was normal for a Generation X child to let themselves in after school, and entertain themselves for hours before either parent came home. Often they were responsible for preparing their own dinner, and as such they learned to be resourceful, independent and self-sufficient.

Accepting of Diversity
Generation X was the first generation for whom international travel was not exclusively for the super-rich. Overseas holidays became more accessible for the average family, and as such, children were exposed to diverse cultures and experiences. The HIV/Aids epidemic was highly publicised in the 80’s, with sex and sexuality aggressively discussed in the media. Generation X was the first generation to grow up with homosexuality in a public forum.

Adaptable to Change
Generation X’ers were the first to experience divorce from a child’s perspective. They adapted to step-parents, blended families and relocation without counselling or ‘how-to’ guides. They were the first generation to experience this change in family make-up, so they learned to adapt on their own, and as they went along.

Technologically Proficient
While Generation X is not as technologically savvy as Gen Y, they have been raised with technology and are quick to learn new skills as technology advances. They were the first generation to have remote controls, microwave ovens and home computers, so they are not frightened by innovative technology and the potential benefits it brings.

Protective of their ‘Play’ Time
With workaholic Baby Boomers as parents, most Gen X’ers live by the philosophy of ‘work hard, play hard’. They have watched their parents live-to-work, only to retire with little savings and no real adventure stories to tell. Most Gen X’ers are determined to master work-life balance, and make ‘play-time’ as much as a priority as ‘work-time’.

More Ambitious, Less Loyal
Generation X are often accused of being selfish and lazy by their Baby Boomer parents. The truth is Gen X’ers are less likely to settle for the status quo and believe that they need to keep learning to stay ahead of the game. Because they adapt well to change, they will have no problem leaving your organisation if they feel like their needs aren’t being met.

So what does that mean for Volunteer Managers?
By understanding what motivates (and demotivates) Generation X, you can implement strategies to best manage their performance and keep them actively involved in your organisation. If you are responsible for managing Gen X’ers in your team, make sure you:

Use a Hands-Off Management Style
Try to micro-manage a Gen X’er, and chances are they will simply quit and walk away. Gen X’ers are fiercely independent and incredibly capable, so simply tell them the outcome you require and let them get on with it. If they don’t know how to do something, they will find out under their own steam.

Provide Flexible Working Conditions
In order to get the best work-life balance, Gen X’ers like to be able to swap and change their timetable to suit them. Many Gen X’ers will have children and family to consider, so look for roles and tasks that don’t need people to be present on specific days and times.

Find Their Unique Strengths
When looking at their team members, Gen X’ers are more likely to search for differences rather than commonalities. They want to know what gap they can fill, so that they have their own unique place in the team. Let them lead their own project or be responsible for specific aspects of a large task.

Share the Load
Gen X’ers much prefer to work with you, rather than for you, so when it comes to the menial tasks, make sure you pitch in at least once in a while. Generation X resists authority, but will respond well to leaders who meet them on their own level.

Offer Good Training Opportunities
Any chance for professional development will be embraced quickly by Generation X. Not only will this give you a more skilled volunteer, by providing regular training opportunities, you will have a happier volunteer also.

Lead Efficient Meetings
Most Generation X’ers loathe meetings for meetings sake. They can quite happily do their work with minimal face-to-face time, and would prefer people email guidelines and expectations so they can address it at a time that suits them. If you must have meetings, have a clear agenda so they know that there is a point, and be aware that they are likely to see meetings as an interruption to their ‘play time’.

Give Feedback Instantly
Generation X thrives on feedback – good and bad, and expects to receive feedback about their work instantly. They don’t necessarily need a fanfare, but they do need to know what you think. Gen X’ers also love to give feedback – so make sure you give them plenty of opportunity to do so.

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