So much has been written about Baby Boomers (born from 1946-1964) and Millennials (born from 1982-2000), including numerous articles and blogs i've authored. But sandwiched between these two is what feels like a forgotten generation: Generation X.
Born from 1965 to 1981, Generation X has been said to be named for the algebraic "x," meaning undefined. They are, as a group, about 40 percent smaller than the Boomer and Millennial groups, with approximately 50 million members.
Solidly entering middle age, this group has joined the ranks of firm and company leadership and its members are, in many instances, the heirs apparent to run many of America's CPA firms, its companies, and our country, too - and in the very near future.
Because of their smaller population size, Generation X cannot supply a one-to-one replacement for the country's 76 million imminently retiring Baby Boomers.
As a result, they find themselves truly reliant on their successor (and sometimes resented) generation, the Millennials, to fill the skills and leadership gap that will enable them succeed.
So who is the unsung Generation X member? Like all demographic clusters, we have to remember that each member is unique and probably won't exactly mirror every one of their group's characteristics.
With that said, let's explore some things that are consistently listed to describe Generation X when we conduct diversity workshops and ask small, cross-generational groups to answer these questions about them.
THE STRENGTHS OF GENERATION X
Baby Boomers, Millennials and Generation Xers believes that Generation Xers are:
- Socially conscious and take more of a world view.
- Striving for work/life balance; career isn't everything to them.
- Adaptable and flexible in thinking, and they embrace diversity.
- Analytical and methodical in their approach to work.
- Interested in making money and being competitive.
- Responsible when they commit.
- Outspoken and willing to regularly question the status quo.
- More informal than Baby Boomers.
- Willing to take risks.
- Independent and fine being different.
- Striving for perfection.
- Looking to do things efficiently and willing to adopt technology to achieve this.
THE WEAKNESSES OF GENERATION X
Baby Boomers, Millennials and Generation Xers say that Generation Xers may be:
- Less self-aware, and inclined to think more of their abilities than others do.
- Less loyal than Baby Boomers (but perhaps more so than Millennials).
- Competitive toward Millennials or sometimes threatened by them (in fact, there's a fair amount written by Gen Xers calling Millennials out for thinking they are "special").
- In the habit of asking too many questions - especially when others expect them to have or generate more of the answers now.
- Cynical or negative and not adept at engendering feelings of hope and excitement in others.
- Resistant to change.
- Less technology-proficient than Millennials (although some say they know more about traditional "desktop" applications than anyone in their organizations, while Millennials may know more about mobile and cloud apps).
- Selfish at times.
- Prone to liking the chain of command and resenting the "flattening out" of organizations driven by Millennials.
- Less personal communicators than Baby Boomers, preferring e-mail when possible.
- Growing resentful of the Baby Boomer presence -- they're ready to take over.
WHAT DOES GENERATION X VALUE MOST?
Baby Boomers, Millennials and Generation Xers think Generation Xers most value:
- Their time and balancing work, family and life.
- Respect and acknowledgement, and having a true sense of accomplishment.
- The ability to question things and push back - something they'll have to also appreciate and encourage in their Millennial successors.
- Education, learning, growth and progression.
- Having choices or options available to them.
- Using technology to work smarter, and multi-tasking when possible.
I'm very interested in your feedback on the Generation X characteristics and values I've listed. More important, consider discussing this piece with your team members to dispel any misconceptions that you feel it holds, agree with anything you feel rings true, and get their feedback on what they feel it's like to work with your organization's Gen Xers, too.
In my opinion, Generation X has stayed under the pop culture and business writing radar for far too long. Staying in this misunderstood silence isn't helping their superiors believe in their vision, nor is it enabling their fellow co-workers to relate to or, more important, follow them.
But stepping out of the shadows carries real risk and obligation. The more spotlight they take, the more burden they will carry and the more opportunity they will attain, too.
I, for one, hopefully await Generation X coming into its own!
Jennifer Wilson is a Baby Boomer partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success.
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