…And Now Some Love (and Understanding) for Gen-X

Even though this is GrowingMillennialLeadership.com, it’s also important for us to look at other generations and understand what makes them tick and why they are the way they are.  I have a Gen-X friend and colleague who likes to give me a hard time for posting so much about Millennials.  So for him, and all of you ‘latchkey’ kids out there (including my older brother), this one’s for you.

As we have with other generations let’s explore some of the characteristics (both labeled and self-induced) of Gen-X.  Remember, generations are more defined by life’s events that occurred during their forming years, then the actual dates in which they were born.  As historian Robert Wohl put it, “historical generations aren’t born; they are made.”  Gen-X, born approximately between 1965 -1980, have been labeled pragmatic, lazy, rebellious, pessimistic, able to take a punch, single, and solitary.  Unlike the size of Baby Boomers (80 million) and Millennials (94 million), Gen-X has just about 46 million members, making it a dark horse demographic. They are the middle child of two larger generations and are often labeled the “forgotten generation.” 

Much of the angst for this generation is that they tend to be heirs of bleak fortune - “Instead of getting free love, we got AIDS,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of GenX Reader.  They also inherited a recession after college, a cold war, a technology (dot com) burst, and now, a housing and financial burst at what should be a time when they’re at the height of their adulthood.  More recently, Gen-Xers having waited to take over the leadership reigns from Baby Boomers when they retire, are now having to sideline their career growth because Boomers are sticking around the workplace for another 5-10 years to rebuild their nest egg (and quite frankly, they’re still healthy and able).  You can hear in the distance the faint cries of Gen-X leaders saying, “When is it our turn already?!” Why are they sometimes classified as cynical and with a chip on their shoulder?  Life’s twists and turns have made them that way. 

The X, of Gen-X, was meant to signify the generation’s random, ambiguous, contradictory ways, says Dougals Coupland, author of Generation X: Tales from an Accelerated Culture. So contradictory are they, they even contradict themselves - reinventing themselves as the world changes, remaking themselves as the times require.  As was mentioned, they know how to take a punch.  Instead, maybe they should be labeled the “Rocky” generation, claiming like our Italian Stallion friend, “It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done.”  Interestingly enough, the first Rocky film came out during the forming years of this generation.

However, a recent study has come out to argue much of the aforementioned characteristics of Gen-X as not true (or that they are at least fading). Michigan’s Longitude Study of American Youth has recently updated a study revealing that the characteristics previously prescribed to this generation (slacker, single, solitary) don’t really apply to them anymore.  Gen-X has had some triumphs which might explain the move to a more progressive Gen-Xer.  This group consists of current icons like Quentin Tarantino, Barack Obama and Jon Stewart.  This generation is also credited with pioneering companies like Google, YouTube, and Amazon.

Gen-X, famously known as the “latchkey kids” for the house key that two working parents put around them and told them to supervise themselves after school, is very independent and likes being unsupervised.  Gen-X was a generation that was educated not only my teachers in the classroom but by Big Bird and Sesame Street after school.  They were taught to seek out answers, pave their own path and utilize the world around them.  Millennials on the other were over-supervised and like the idea of partnering with parents to help decide schools, clothes, cars, jobs and purchasing houses.  This is usually where the tension between X and Y begins to form.  So while the Millennials are currently asking for more supervision, direction, feedback and coaching from their Gen-X managers, Gen-X managers are more likely to tell them to figure it out on their own (much like the Gen-X manager did when they first got the job).

We’ve written other posts about how Gen-X and Millennials can build a stronger relationship and commitment to the future of their work together so I won’t go into that in this post.  I think the message here is that the idea that Gen-X is a failed generation (or forgotten generation) and the Millennial generation will succeed in its place is completely false.  Instead, as we have pointed out, these two generations bring great skill sets to the table.  “Having the tough, capable and pragmatic Gen-X’ers working alongside the idealistic, team-oriented and enthusiastic Millennial is just the right recipe.  We both have lots to teach each other,” states the article Gen-X vs. Millennials: I Don’t Think So.  We need a team with the smarts, innovation, creativity and experience to succeed, a team designed to win.  The manager and the worker will need to work together to change the world.  Sometimes it just takes a little bit of understanding…and love. 

Also read:

Gen-X Rising

 The Millennial Gen-X Challenge: Driving the future of the Organization, Together

Why Some Gen X Managers Struggle with Millennials, Literally