The label Generation X emerged in 1991 with the release of Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. The twenty-somethings in his book were characterised as overeducated, underemployed, cynical and disaffected – a ‘lost generation’ living in the shadow of their baby boomer parents, and rebelling against them.
This was the latchkey generation, where rising divorce rates and an increase in both parents working meant many young people were left to try and figure life out for themselves.
Generation X – the last schooled in the old manner, caught between vast waves of boomers and millennials… just think of all the things that have come and gone in our lifetimes, all the would-be futures we watched age into obsolescence—CD, DVD, answering machine, Walkman, mixtape, MTV, video stores, rotary phones.
Much has been written of generations clashing at work. Boomers clinging to privilege and rank. Gen X pushing out 60 year olds while blocking Millennials from rising. Youth fighting tooth and nail for a leg up.
To diffuse possible resentments, it helps to find common ground with other age groups. An understanding of shared values (or experiences) can smooth tensions. It can even lead to mutual gain.
What Generation X And Millennials Have In Common
The age gap between these two cohorts is significant, not vast. Gen Xers range from their mid-30s to early 50s. Millennials are in their 20s and early 30s. As a result there’s much these generations both relate to.
Comfort With Technology
- Who entered the workforce just as computers hit it big? Gen X! They started with “dumb terminals” and sluggish desktop PC’s. Faxes evolved into email; the Internet sprouted, and mobile phones shrank from the size and weight of a brick to today’s pocket marvels.
- Millennials have been wired from the get go. Their comfort level with virtual transactions is remarkable.
Difficulty Getting First Good Job
- Millennials are struggling to get established. Competition is intense. 20-somethings may have to take on unpaid internships plus big student loans.
- Gen X’ers also graduated into tough times. A recession left many to take first jobs substantially beneath their level of education.
Blocked From Advancing Quickly
- Ask anyone in their 20s what’s holding back their career progress. “All those people over 40 clinging white-knuckled to their jobs,” is a likely reply. Boomers and Gen Xers make up nearly two thirds of the workforce.
- Gen Xers also must deal with older workers hanging on longer. The financial crisis of 2007 – 2010 scaled back retirement plans for many 60+ workers.
Importance of Worklife Balance
- Gen Xers wanted jobs that left time for other priorities. Unfortunately workplace demands, family obligations and economic realities made it tougher to achieve balance.
- Millennials are using technology to free themselves from workplace shackles. Remote work and flexible scheduling can mean greater freedom. Except employer demands continue to conflict with personal time.
While Gen X may be equally capable at digital tasks as millennials, they also show a mastery of conventional leadership skills more on par with leaders of the baby boomer generation. That includes identifying and developing new talent at their organizations and driving the execution of business strategies to bring new ideas to reality.
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