Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Generation X in the Workplace Anymore


Many have pointed out that for the first time in history, four generations are in the workplace at the same time. Discussions about how to manage these different groups is pervasive, but many forget to include Generation X, which includes those born between 1965 and 1980. The talk is dominated by Baby Boomers, Millennials, and now Gen Z.

Some have referred to Generation X as the sandwich generation because it is smack in the middle of the two most populous generations, Baby Boomers and Millennials. Although a smaller group, Gen X accounted for 53 million workers in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2018, the Global Leadership Forecast reported that Gen X held 51% of leadership roles globally. 

In the Middle

While Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z grab the spotlight, Gen X toils away with little fanfare. In 2014, Pew Research labeled Generation X as “the neglected middle child.” It reported that Gen Xers were loyal and hardworking, yet they were the most overlooked for promotion. 

One hypothesis about why Gen Xers are ignored is that they are experiencing the monotony of middle age while caring for young children and aging parents. To understand any generation, you have to consider their past, present, and future.

A look back at the youth of Gen X tells the story. Crime was up, the government was scandalous (Richard Nixon’s Watergate, Ronald Reagan’s Iran Contra, Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky), and the rich and famous lost their sheen (O.J. Simpson, for example). They lived through the birth of the 24-hour news cycle and journalism as a business. All these experiences gave Gen X a healthy skepticism, according to BridgeWorks. They ask questions and don’t take anything at face value. 

Reality Bytes

Generation X grew up before the dawn of the internet, but they had to adjust and adapt to advances in technology. They have spent their professional lives embracing the internet and other tech. Nielsen found that Gen X is the most connected generation. Their experience with both worlds helps them relate simultaneously to Boomers and Millennials. In fact, Gen X can serve as a bridge between the two generations. 

This group also lived through three devastating recessions – the Dot-Com Bust, the Great Recession, and the pandemic. If money is power, then that could explain why Generation X is all but forgotten. Business Insider recently revealed that Gen Xers make the most money but also have the most debt. 

Members of Gen X are known for having “an entrepreneurial mindset and work hard, play hard thinking,” according to U.S. News & World Report. Employers have spent time and money determining the best ways to recruit, engage, and retain Millennials and now Gen Z workers. But it could behoove them to pay more attention to Gen X, especially as they try to win the talent wars during a historic labor shortage. 

Members of Generation X have an uncanny loyalty. Amdocs recently reported that 14% of Gen Xers have considered leaving their job, compared to 31% of Gen Z and 27% of Millennials. Only Boomers, at 13%, were less likely to quit. These characteristics are the kind that get you noticed by Human Resources. 

Remember the Forgotten

“The oldest Gen X workers will likely still be in the workforce for at least 10 years, and the younger members of the generation may still be working for more than 30, meaning that Gen X will be forming the backbone of organizations’ leadership for quite some time,” according to CNBC. “Those that overlook Gen X in favor of focusing only on the youngest generations entering the workforce will miss out on a deep and valuable source of leadership potential.” 

There are a few other good reasons for employers to look more closely at Generation X. More than 50% of Gen X respondents to a survey by Good Hire said they are happy at work. The one caveat, which Gen Xers share with Millennials and Gen Z, is that they are most bothered by their boss or manager. Baby Boomers are instead most bothered by insufficient pay. Of course, the general message is that Generation X wants better work-life balance and more flexibility just like everyone else. 

Frankly, during the Great Resignation, businesses can’t afford to ignore anyone. It’s time to take another look at Generation X. Although Gen X has been referred to as slackers known for their love of flannel, sipping lattes, and worshipping at the altar of alternative rock like Nirvana, they have proven themselves. They are leading innovation and have demonstrated loyalty and an unmatched work ethic.

“If [employers] ignore the needs and desires of their employees, in the Great Resignation and war-for-talent environment, the best and brightest will jump ship to competitors,” writes Jack Kelly, executive recruiter, in a column for Forbes. “They will not be able to replace them, as word spreads that they don’t care about their team.”  

Photo by Anete Lusina for Pexels

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