Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

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How Organizations Can Engage Generation X

There is a widely held perception that members of Generation X are not joiners and don't care to spend their time in organizational activities. A study by Arthur Brooks, PhD, associate professor of public administration at Syracuse University and director of its Nonprofit Studies Program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs found that not to be the case if these individuals, now in their 30s and early 40s, see real benefit to their careers.

Here are the points from Professor Brook's research I think are most relevant to us and to our effort to engage the younger generations in the workplace for professional and business development results.

  • Professional and trade associations are growing in numbers and membership, and they are substituting for community associations in people's lives.
  • However, they have not been targeting adequately Gen Xers, who are moving into the age of highest organizational involvement - their 40s.
  • Different from Baby Boomers, Gen Xers are only likely to join associations when they see tangible return on their investment; and they are not likely to join for a fee if they don't see tangible ROI or "real participation" opportunities.
  • Young people don't "discharge social capital responsibility" by writing a check or just being a member. (PWH Note: the same has long been true of most women and their philanthropic efforts - they want an active role, not just check-writing.)
  • Associations must market differently to Generation X than they have to Boomers and Traditionalist generations before them.
  • Gen Xers are typically less comfortable in social settings than Baby Boomers are.
  • They also place more emphasis on a work/play balance (note: this is not just work/life balance). So meetings need to be relevant to their careers and enjoyment of their lives.

Here are some strategies that are proving to work. An organization needs to:

  • Be a resource for career development at every stage (all the way through retirement).
  • Provide service opportunities. This breeds loyalty.
  • "Service" means helping people in a charitable way.
  • Put young people on committees with a voice in planning and policy.
  • Sponsor interactive sessions and networking opportunities.
  • To attract members: survey them to see what would make them turn out.
  • Have educational sessions with clear takeaways for long term benefit.
How do we relate the above insights to engagement for building professional association membership and attendance and engagement in firm in-house professional development?
  • Focus on skills Gen X professionals can use immediately to make themselves more marketable.
  • Provide opportunities to demonstrate skills in a meaningful way and gain visibility.
  • Let the younger generation try things their own way and prove themselves.
  • Provide pro bono opportunities.
  • Incorporate competition and contests for fun with recognition.
  • Focus on being time efficient and avoid unnecessary meetings.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2007