The latchkey children of the high-flying Baby Boomers, Generation X is sometimes considered the least understood of the three generations. Often left to its own devices while its Baby Boomer parents pursued their success, this generation embraced technology as its companion and has excelled at it. In my previous post, I talked about the rebellious but upwardly mobile Baby Boomers. In this post, I’ll explore the misunderstood generation: Generation X.

Inwardly focused and often pessimistic in the face of their parent’s endless optimism, Generation Xers tend to feel disconnected from and disenchanted with the status quo, fearing themselves to be the first generation to not do as well in the world as their parents did. Yet interestingly, Generation X’s inward focus has often inspired a quest for improvement and success. No doubt Generation X has had trouble grabbing the spotlight away from its “look-at-me” parents. However, in some ways—at least when it comes to career choices—that’s led this generation to try a little harder, if only for self-improvement.

A jaded perspective

In the workplace, Generation Xers are the up and coming leaders, but they’re commitment is often more to themselves and less to the organisation. Jaded by witnessing the realities of ongoing corporate downsizing and other widespread financial upheaval, they distrust institutions and do not expect any one company to be loyal to them. They reciprocate with a self-reliant approach to their careers, often switching companies.  Still, Gen Xers are eager to improve and succeed in the workplace, and don’t mind learning the ropes from their predecessors. Not only that, according to a survey that spanned workers from all three generations, Gen Xers make the best managers of the entire group. They are collaborative, adaptable, and good problem solvers.

Though often outshined by Baby Boomers, Generation X looks up to them for their leadership status and appreciates their guidance. Mentorships are a natural fit between these generations as a way to facilitate career development. In terms of organisational priorities, succession planning and knowledge transfer between Baby Boomers and Generation X should be considered critical. Organisations must implement formal and ongoing structures for managing these processes, or they will be at serious risk if and when Boomers exit the workforce. The investment in establishing these processes will reap benefits well into the future, when Generation X eventually passes the leadership torch to Millennials.

Flexibility is key

Much like Baby Boomers, but for different reasons, flexibility in the workplace is a very important draw for Generation X. Perhaps like no other, this generation feels the crunch of raising children and supporting aging parents at the same time. Also, because Gen Xers have faced the possibility of being less affluent than their parents and have taken steps to prevent that, they often experience the added pressures that come with two, full-time working parents in the household. Flexible work options that allow Gen Xers to remain productive while taking care of multiple familial and personal obligations will benefit both employees and employers.

In my next post, I’ll discuss perhaps the most talked about and certainly the largest generation to-date: Millennials.

For more information about generational differences in the workplace, please see:

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