Generation X, the 48 million Americans born between 1965 and 1981, have become accustomed to being invisible –but no company can afford to ignore them now. Unfortunately, most companies haven’t come to this realization yet.
Sanwiched between two behemoth, ego-centric generations, Generation X has become the Jan Brady of the workforce. Since they entered the workforce, Xers have been stuck sitting in middle management hell waiting for the Baby Boomers to retire, and now they’re desperately hoping they get the opportunity to lead before Generation Y–the largest generation in history–pushes them out of the way.
For employers worldwide, Generation X is crucial to future success but few corporate programs are directed at their needs. Smart organizations will seek to understand what motivates them in order to sustain, retain, realize and maximize their potential.
Here’s why getting to X is more important than ever: More than a third of them hope to leave their jobs in three years according to a survey of the Center for Work-Life Policy.
Other key findings: 41% are unsatisfied with their rate of advancement and 49% feel stalled in their careers; 28% are working longer hours–an average of 10 more a week than three years ago; and 74% feel credit card debt dictates their career choices.
Bottom line: Xers are under stressed, burned-out, and frustrated. Many employers have failed to identify a clear set of opportunities for them, so there is a considerable flight risk.
The findings come at time when businesses say it’s increasingly difficult to find qualified workers. In the U.S., 52% of employers reported having trouble filling positions this year. That makes workers in Generation X, a third of whom have a bachelor’s degree or higher and the youngest of whom have been in the workforce for about a decade, a key pool for companies.
However, the Xer flight risk poses a challenge to companies that need bench strength for leadership. And let’s face it–in light of economic decline and the pending retirement wave, most companies need bench strength desperately right now.
Generation X was epitomized as apathetic and directionless in films such as Reality Bites (1994).
Now, as Xers approach middle age, reality does indeed ‘bite’ for the Xers who haven’t had a smooth transition into the workplace, and it also ‘bites’ for the employers who can’t engage the Xers.
After all, Xers are the next generation of leaders. They are a company’s only succession plan. At 48 million, the Xer generation is quite small, which will undoubtedly create a war for talent in the very near future. With very different values, needs, wants and expectations than their Boomer counterparts, the Xers are seeking opportunities to have their professional and personal needs met within a company.
Here’s what employers need to know about the forgotten, restless middle:
Not surprising, the Generation X survey found that 70 percent would prefer to be their own bosses. They want the flexibility that will allow them to devote time to outside pursuits and family obligations. Less rigid hours and less time spent in the office are very important to them. Solutions include offering alternative opportunities to Xers when they cannot be promoted vertically and making sure that Gen Xers without children receive the same flexibility as those with children.
Credit Suisse began more actively promoting flexible arrangements last year within its finance group, expanding from a focus on working mothers to all employees, and over 95 percent of requests are granted.
At Cisco, workers may take leave of up to 12 months and keep their benefits and jobs, which employees most often use to have children and take care of elderly parents.In 2007, Cisco began teaming up people in different departments for 16 weeks at a time to develop new strategic products or initiatives. Participants have priority consideration for leadership roles within the company.
At PepsiCo Inc., the talent strategy focus on Generation X is “laser sharp” according to a global talent VP. One new PepsiCo program helps develop the best prospects for senior management, with six-month assignments that combine business school training with immersion in operations in China, India and Brazil. PepsiCo last year started a career modeling program where employees and managers set goals for assignments three to 10 years out, so people see clear paths to advancement.
Regardless of how you do it, it needs to get done. Eventually, the Boomers will retire or just get darn tired of holding the world on their shoulders. Someday, you will need to turn to Generation X for leadership and innovation and succession. The question you must ask yourself now is: will any Xers be there in our company’s time of need?
If your company continues to overlook them as the invisible, forgotten middle, don’t count on it.
In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.
Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.
Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.
In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.
With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.
Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.
Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.
Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.
Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.
In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.
While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.
The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.
Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results. Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.
When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.
Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.
Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.
Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.
Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.
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