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November 03, 2014

Getting the Job Done: Gen X in the Workplace

Posted 4 years 262 days ago by Gretchen Hirsch

With 25 million more people in their demographic, Millennials are grabbing attention from members of the Gen X cohort—those born between 1965 and 1980 or thereabouts. But it’s Gen Xers who are the engine of business today, providing leadership in organizations throughout the country. The oldest members of the group are nearing 50, which for many is a peak period of generative power. Sheryl Sandberg is a Gen Xer. So are Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google. Ditto Jeff Bezos of Amazon.


This relatively small generation is having an outsized impact because of the life experiences that have shaped them, say many commentators. Gen Xers were born during a time of great social change: the group is as small as it is because it came along at a time when birth control became more accessible and acceptable. Moms worked, and thousands of Gen X children were latchkey kids, independent and often free to roam and learn in ways their parents never dreamed of. Although many of the technological advances we take for granted today weren’t around yet (because they were waiting for Gen Xers to invent or exploit them), these people were on the ground floor when technology began to flower—and they have helped it to do so.


Gen X grew up in times of uncertainty. Divorce became much more common in those years, and many of this generation were part of single-parent homes or blended families. They learned to get along with all kinds of people. The AIDS epidemic made its way across the landscape. Economic booms and busts were a cyclical part of Gen Xers’ existence, both as children and adults. Their families may have lost both jobs and savings at various times, so they understand the precariousness of everyday life. And, say Douglas Keene and Rita Handrich in an article in The Jury Expert, the greatest number of casualties and the greatest number of heroes of the 9/11 tragedy were members of Generation X.


All these factors have had a bearing on Gen Xers’ worldviews, both in the workplace and beyond it. Because they had more childhood and young adult freedom than many previous generations, they became resourceful and self-reliant. They are quintessential “sandwich generation” members, with responsibility for children and often for aging parents, so flexible work arrangements and considerable freedom in how work gets done are important to them. If work is meaningful and provides opportunities to learn and grow, they are engaged, but they will not hesitate to leave a stultifying workplace. They won’t whine about it. They’ll just be gone. Although they are not fond of micromanagement (remember all that childhood independence), they do like frequent feedback. They want to do well so their jobs are secure (remember all those financial downturns).


As Susan Lamotte says in a recent article for Time: “Because Generation Xers … make up only 20 percent of the workforce, as leadership roles are vacated by older workers, there are fewer Generation Xers available [to fill them]. And Millennials may not have the experience and maturity needed for such roles….Three to five years from now experienced leaders may be impossible to recruit.”


It’s important, she says, to examine how your organization treats these valuable resources and makes sure they aren’t being neglected as companies hasten to accommodate the latest wave of workers. Listen to them and reward them well, because they are among your company’s most valuable asset.


“As we look at demographic groups in the workforce,” says Sheila Lewis, CEO of Ashton212, “we have to be mindful that every generation brings something important to the table. At Ashton212, we intentionally have associates representing virtually every demographic in recognition of the rapidly changing, and often very specific, needs of our clients.”

Tags: Gen X management millennials Susan Lamotte workforce

Categories: categoryGeneration X categoryManagement categoryMillennials categoryWorkforce

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