I am a Gen Xer. I literally sit smack dab in the middle of that generation; my birth date is just a few days shy of the exact halfway point between 1965 and 1980, the years that bookend Gen X. I do my best to make myself feel good about my generation, as we are often overlooked because of our size compared to baby boomers and millennials. We lack the numbers, which means we lack the power. I often hear from other Gen Xers, what about us?
I hear you, compadres. And let me tell you something. As we embark on this great generational shift in the workplace, you and I—the proud Xers—will be key to helping organizations make the transition.
Xers are often described as the latchkey kids. This, for many of us, was the driver to who we are today. Many of us grew up in an environment in which both of our parents were working. So we were often left to take care of ourselves and siblings, managing our own schedules and operating within a certain degree of autonomy. This created some very independent, entrepreneurial and responsible individuals. And we question everything because of what we saw and were expected to do. The problem is, our generation was so small compared to the baby boomers that we couldn’t force the change we wanted.
For example, I believe we were the first generation that craved work/life balance because we saw the boomers “putting in their time” (50, 60, 70 hours/week) in the office and we questioned it, saying there is more to life than work. But we couldn’t do anything about it—at least not at first. Now that millennials are on the work scene, they’re big enough to have a voice. And guess what they want? Work/life balance. Their solutions might look different from ours, but if we recognize that at the heart of it we really want the same thing, we can work together to shift the landscape for everyone’s benefit.
Employers—If you have Gen Xers on staff, you need to take care of them. Pay them some attention. They have “put in their time” and “played by the rules.” They know how business has “always been done,” but they also see the changes that need to take place in order to move their organizations forward. Give them a voice. Do not skip over them in favor of the larger millennial crowd. If you expect to survive and succeed through the massive generational shift, you will need change leaders with experience as well as vision. Xers are your team captains. Lean on them.
Gen Xers—Don’t let this go to your head. First, continue picking up the skill sets you need to step into those key roles, as you have been doing throughout your careers. We are already in a situation where top talent is very difficult to find. I believe opportunities could increase as boomers continue leaving the workplace. And secondly, you need to be open to the generations following in your steps. My experience working with millennials has been outstanding when we engage them. This requires us to be open to their ideas, value their seat at the table and truly take an interest in mentoring them.
Millennials—Don’t dismiss the Xers. They’re not just on your team; they are your coaches and trainers. Share your ideas with them, allow yourself to be mentored, and keep an open mind to their expertise. Your own professional development depends on wise teachers and guides, and Xers can be just that.
Let’s look at it this way. The three primary generations in today’s workplace are like a big sandwich. Boomers are the slice of bread on top. Millennials are the slice of bread on the bottom. And the Xers? We’re the meat in the middle. And what good is a sandwich without the meat?
Like I said, I try to make myself feel good about my generation. And you can feel good about Xers, too. Remember them. Utilize them. Value them. And just watch all those customers start lining up to take a bite into your sandwich.