The Valuable Employee Segment Your Retention Strategy is Missing

Female, Gen X empty nester going back to school

Earlier this month, a valuable new segment of employees exited college campuses and headed to the workplace.   

Newly minted Gen-Z graduates? Them, too. But no. 

We’re talking about empty nesters. 

After stocking their kids’ mini-fridges and dutifully tucking in the XL sheets, a fresh generation of newly liberated parents exited dorm rooms earlier this month, hesitantly (or, if we’re being honest, perhaps ebulliently) stepping out the door, preparing for their next act. 

Many of them already work for you. And whether or not they’re happy dancing or building a shrine in a now-emptied bedroom, one thing’s for sure; after years of mastering the multitask required to manage families and careers, they’ve collected some ace chops for their jobs, and now have the unencumbered time to use it. 

The question is – will they be using it for you? 

It’s a good question – and one worth asking. Why? The obvious answer is talent. Gen X (the most likely to fit today’s empty nester label) may be smaller than our Millennial populations, but not by much --  33% of the workforce, according to Pew, versus Millennials’ 35%. Yet they aren’t exactly being used to best effect. Wedged between Millennials and Boomers, the workforce’s historically underappreciated middle sibling has become a quiet yet relied-upon workhorse. They’re exceptional leaders, says new research by consulting firm DDI. They manage more people. Yet Gen X lags as much as 30% behind their younger colleagues in promotions.

And just as the oldest are emptying their nests, Gen X is hitting a wall. Many told DDI they’re up for grabs. And their dogged loyalty thus far may turn out to be one of the business world’s biggest double-edged swords; people who’ve been committed enough to amass vast amounts of institutional knowledge, but who feel unappreciated enough to take it with them as they walk out the door. 

So how can you hang on to these newly liberated employees and the rest of their Gen X compatriots? 

The Don’ts: For starters, don’t assume emptied nests supplant desire for career growth. Not only does Gen X value learning, 40% of Gen X leaders told DDI they’d leave to advance careers. So make sure your education program is set up to accommodate older employees’ desires by reimbursing for things like certificates and boot camps (skills versus degrees) that don’t require multiple years to complete.

The Dos: Throw some benefits their way. Their days raising children may be behind them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not caregivers. Back-up care levels the field for people caring for family members of all ilk; infants, elders, and everyone in between. It also mitigates the sense that young employees get all the TLC. 

The goal should be to address more than empty nesters – but your intergenerational workforce. And it will take you one step further toward a strategy that truly addresses the needs of every employee. Empty nesters, like working parents, are a perpetually replenishing resource. So what you do today will speak not just to employees you have right now, but to future empty nesters who can clearly see your organization as a place for their next act.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

September 11, 2019

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.