Man Up Gen X! Career Advice for the Stuck Generation
Recently, I was asked to counsel a group of angry 40-something managers on career advancement. These Generation Xers felt they were caught in between “greedy” Baby Boomers, who won't move over to give their generation a shot, and “entitled” Millennials, who won’t put in a decent day’s work.
Generational influences play a significant role in shaping our values, motivations and behaviors. Nowhere are those influences more apparent and the behavior more divergent than in the workplace. Take the Baby Boomers. Their large numbers drove them to be competitive in all parts of life, including work. In their push to get ahead Boomers added a full month’s worth of work per year to their schedule. Now that they are ready to recalibrate work and life, things have gotten complicated. Past spending habits and drops in retirement portfolios have made the prospects of even gradual retirement obsolete for many.
In contrast to the Boomers, Gen Xers are skeptical of institutions, be they financial, political or corporate. Dwarfed by media coverage of Boomers and Millennials, Gen Xers have grown up to feel marginalized and ignored. This trend has continued in the workplace, as the needs of Gen Xers are consistently overshadowed. Constant threats of reorganizations and pay freezes have only fueled existing resentments, causing engagement levels among high performing Gen Xers to plummet.
Aggressively nipping at the ankles of Generation X are members of the Millennial generation. Millennials are large in number and expect constant support from their managers to meet their ambitious professional and life goals. If their needs for meaningful work, instant rewards, and mentoring are not met, Millennials simply quit their jobs for greener pastures.
So what’s a Gen Xer to do? As a generational expert and specialist on today’s workplace issues, I have the following advice.
MAN UP GEN XERS!
If you wish Boomers would get out of your way then help them to retool. It’s not that they want to prevent younger generations from advancement. The problem is that many of them don’t know how to move on (to retirement or to more fulfilling careers) and still support themselves, their aging parents and their children. Teach Boomers time management and delegation skills that force them to work smarter instead of more, and you will help them reach the other side of the mountain more quickly.
On the flipside, if you want Millennials to “toughen up” you will need to do a better job of managing their expectations. Invest your limited time in beefing up your company’s interviewing, orientation and career development initiatives. Millennials who know what is expected of them and what it takes to get to the next level will surprise you with their productivity and loyalty.
And lastly, Gen Xers, I know you value your autonomy but even you could use a little help. Seek out the training you deserve to boost your communication and leadership skills. Otherwise, you’ll play right into the stereotypes associated with your own generation. Or as the lead Gen X character in the film, Office Space, remarks, “It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.”
Amy Hirsh Robinson, MBA, is a leading expert on the changing workforce and the impact of generational shifts on organizations. She consults to Fortune 500 companies, privately held businesses and not-for-profits to prepare and retool leaders and their workforces to excel and compete in the New Economy. Her strategies and programs focus on onboarding new employees to ensure the retention and engagement of top talent, managing and motivating a multigenerational workforce, and building competitive talent pipelines through effective succession planning practices. Amy speaks and publishes widely on workforce strategies for the New Economy and has been cited and quoted in publications such as Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post.