I often joke that Generation X is the forgotten middle child of today’s generational conflict. It’s like being the Jan Brady of the workforce, stuck between glamorous Marcia and cute-as-a-button-with-pigtails Cindy. In many ways, this is more than a joke. It’s the reality. Gen X makes up only 22% of the current workforce with Gen Y/Millennials and Baby Boomers making up the other 78%.
While we might be small in number, I believe Gen Xers have the potential to make a significant contribution to the whole. The groups with the most voices may be the loudest, but that doesn’t mean they are the most impactful.
I started thinking about this in earnest after a recent workshop our team facilitated for the small department of a university. The department was struggling with a great deal of discord, and generational differences were at the root of it.
As we workshopped through some generational scenarios, the gaps became evident. Millennials were openly mocked and Boomers were dismissed as irrelevant. The irony is that the both generations were quick to jump on the bandwagon to bash the other. But the catalyst for the generational disdain? That was coming from the Gen Xers.
Sandwiched between two very large generations, the Xers can adapt and relate to each generation, yet they are desperately seeking their own voices and opportunities. We crave work-life balance and know how to use technology (even if it’s not always intuitive, we Google it). At the same time, we appreciate the value of traditions and on-the-job experience, because that’s the world in which we were raised.
We get the Jan Brady references and the Parks and Rec ones. For good measure, we also have Seinfeld and Friends in our repertoire. Because we have a foot in both worlds, we are well-positioned to help bridge the gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials. However, we have to be more than well-positioned, we have to care.
For the last 34 years, Baby Boomers have been the workforce majority . That’s a very long time for one generation to remain in leadership! As a result, values are deeply held and processes are so ingrained they can feel unchangeable. However, they will change because Millennials are now the workforce majority and they have their own unique values and processes which will impact everything by sheer volume. The question is not: Will change happen? The question is: How will it happen?
Imagine this is a relay race and the Boomers have the baton. Regardless of how fast they ran or how much longer they could run, they are turning the corner and approaching the handoff. As of now, I don’t know how the handoff is going to go. Either there will be a lot of fumbling or dropping of the baton, resulting in high turnover or the dissolution of organizations, or it will be a smooth and beneficial transition.
I don’t know about you, but I want the transition to be a good one. I want our nation’s organizations to carry on and achieve even greater success.
As a Gen Xer, I didn’t start the race and I’m not going to finish it. My role, however, is critical. I am running the middle leg of this relay. Baby Boomers are looking towards the handoff, Millennials are looking at what’s next. It is our generation that is best positioned to keep one eye on what’s ahead and one on what’s behind us to make the transition smooth and help us all succeed.
So to all the Xers out there, let’s embrace our role as the middle child and the perspective and tenacity we’ve been gifted to help our teams advance. We may only be 22 percent of the workforce, but we’re powerful and influential and unique. We’re the gritty, never-give-up, fight-for-your-right generation. We’re the middle kids. And the sooner we take pride and ownership in that role, the better off our organizations will be.
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