The Generation Series, Part 2: Neglect Generation X at Your Peril
Generation X defined the 1990s. They dressed in flannel and ripped denim, and moshed to angst-ridden, distorted music with pronounced loud-quiet-loud dynamics. They’re the latchkey kids, the oft-overlooked middle child between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, largely left to their own devices.
In 1994’s Reality Bites, Lelania Pierce (as played by Gen-X figurehead Winona Ryder, presently proving all tastes are cyclical with her re-emergence via 2016 hit series Stranger Things) shouts a generation-defining demand at Ethan Hawke’s slacker Troy Dyer, “Try at something for once in your life. Do something about it, but you know what? You better do it now, and you better do it fast, because the world doesn’t owe you any favours.”
All Grown Up and Taking Over
By 2017, those grunge kids grew up, and are moving up to management, taking over the reins from retiring Baby Boomers with self-driven determination. Lelania Pierce’s plucky perseverance was one shared by a large part of her generation, with 35% of Gen-Xers holding a university degree, a higher percentage than any other generation. And behind the scenes, they’re making big moves but doing it quietly.
Some of the biggest modern businesses are a direct result of the Do-It-Yourself ethics of Gen-Xers. To name but a few:
- Michael Dell (born 1965), the founder of Dell Computers
- Jeff Bezos (born 1964), the founder of amazon.com
- Lawrence “Larry” Page and Sergey Brin (born 1973), co-founders of Google
- Reid Hoffman (born 1967), the founder of LinkedIn
- Sheryl Sandberg (born 1969), the CEO of Facebook
- Jack Dorsey (born 1976), a co-founder of Twitter
All told, the DIY drive in Gen-X accounts for 55% of all start-ups.
The Power of Flexibility
The main concern for the Generation X workforce is that of flexibility. Raised during the rise of Moms heading back to work (thus the prevalence of latchkey kids taking care of themselves after school), and a major up-tick in divorce rates, Gen-Xers distrust traditional hierarchical models both in society and management.
Unlike the more faithful Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers will change employment in order to get ahead, albeit in full embrace of the “Work to live, not live to work” adage. But that doesn’t mean they’re a generation of lone wolves. In reality, Generation X employees value teamwork, group projects, and opportunities for nurturing development throughout the office.
“Here We Are Now, Entertain Us”
As managers and staff, Gen-Xers shy away from the solitary limelight in preference of sharing in collective goals. While self-reliant and individualistic as a generation, the importance of group solidarity for a Gen-Xer cannot be underestimated. Recent studies show Gen-Xers ranked above other generations as “team players” and “relationship builders.” While you can occasionally easily spot them as the ones playing power chord air guitar to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ after meetings, there are other managerial styles common amongst Generation X:
- Forms of communication are pointedly non-hierarchical and direct vs. via levels of management
- They embrace a level playing field
- They communicate with all members of staff with the same level of respect – as though everyone is boss.
- They focus on fostering confidence and job satisfaction.
- Real world recession experiences have prepared Generation X for economic ups and downs
- Gen-X management encourage creative approaches and new ideas.
- Achievements are celebrated – be it individually or as part of a team.
So ignore Generation X at your peril. While the social conversation has been focused on Baby Boomers and Millennials, Gen-Xers have been quietly revolutionizing the world – and taking their place in the C-suite. If the top chair in your organization isn’t currently occupied by a Gen-Xer, it soon will be.
Read this next: The Generation Series Part 1: The Multigenerational Workplace