Generation X: The “Forgotten Generation” Soon to Be Remembered (by Millennials)

Kristin Boe
Written by
Kristin Boe

The Benefits of Gen X as Leaders

Gen Y, that. Millennials, this. Oh, this about Gen Z also. Blah, blah, Boomers retiring, blah.

Does this sound familiar? Gen Y, the next mega-generation, Gen Z, the youngest and still mostly unknown generation, and Boomers, the generation that represents today’s leadership and C-Suite occupants, sure are getting a lot of ink these days.

But what about Gen X?

Generational evolutionGen X, often termed the “Forgotten Generation,” was born between 1965 and 1980.  This generation is relatively small in numbers, but is big in its ideas and defining characteristics.  As you may have heard (yes, that is sarcasm), the workforce is about to see a huge demographical shift: 10,000 Boomers are retiring every day and millions of Millennials (and soon Gen Z) are entering the workforce as individual contributors and low to mid-level managers. This leaves the approximately 50 million experienced Gen X employees, currently in mid to senior managerial roles, to take on the next wave of corporate leadership.  Since I’m a Millennial and these folks will likely be running the company I work for or be my direct boss, it seems like a good idea to start exploring what makes this generation unique:

Gen X were the first users of technology.

Technology and Gex XMost of today’s technologies were introduced during their lifetime and took a much more rudimentary early form.  This caused users to need to understand the logic or structure underlying technology to use it effectively.  Fully understanding and adopting those technologies created a generation that is comprised of extraordinary users of technologies.  Gen X truly knows how to leverage it to solve problems. When Gen X takes over leadership roles from retiring Boomers, I think (and hope) they will turn to technology to help them make the work environment more productive and efficient.  Boomers who may not have innately turned to technology, and in the past may have impeded its implementation, will no longer be a barrier.  As a Millennial, I think it’s safe to say that my generation and our Gen Z counterparts will certainly prefer and benefit from the technological progress and approach.

Gen X is less concerned with hierarchy or protecting their spot in it compared to other generations.

For this reason, we will only see the organizational landscape continue to flatten.  Authority will stem more from relative experience and knowledge rather than from the title placard on your desk (if you even still have a physical desk or office).  Can I get an “Amen” from my fellow Millennials?! As Millennials, we already are inclined to see authority and superiority as a function of overall knowledge and experience and not organizational position.  At work, let’s rely on what we know and not how well we play politics and position ourselves for promotion.

Gen X works to live, not lives to work.

Work-life BalanceWhew, finally! While it is obviously important to work hard and produce quality results (sometimes by working 40 hours a week and sometimes by putting in 60,) the idea that it is not necessary to work yourself so hard that you have to put your life on the back burner is welcomed by me and others of my generation.  As a Millennial, I am relieved that the next round of leaders will value a nice work/life balance.  Growing up with Boomer parents (who were great, by the way), I experienced the family time that was sacrificed to those extra hours at the office. I am glad to anticipate that the next generation of leaders might not want to wait until age 65 or retirement to fully enjoy life outside of work.

Gen X is collaborative.

Although often deemed as only great peer collaborators, I think their collaborative nature will expand as their span of control increases. When they start filling those upper echelons of leadership, they will need those collaboration skills to coordinate people, processes, business units, and more. This collaborative attitude will also likely trickle down into all levels of the company due to their leadership, helping to create an even more collaborative work culture.   Millennials and Gen Zs can also leverage their boss’s and leader’s collaborative nature (we are pretty collaborative ourselves, don’t you think?).  Maybe Gen X is used to collaborating laterally, but I am sure they are open to downward collaboration.  If this isn’t something that comes naturally to these folks, why don’t we, Millennials and Gen Zs, just ask for more vertical collaboration?  Tell your boss, leaders, and the like that you value two-way (vertical) collaboration, and I bet that you’ll get the collaboration you want.

Gen X leans towards cup half-empty.

Anxious and worriedAnd why wouldn’t they? They grew up in the uncertain economic times of the 1980s and then had the joy of surviving the Dot-com Bubble Bust and the Great Recession, two Gulf Wars, a famine in Africa, an AIDS epidemic, record high unemployment, the burst of the housing bubble, and a hugely divided nation with a less then rock-solid economy. I can understand why they might be less inclined to see butterflies and rainbows when facing the future.  That said, pessimism isn’t always a bad thing (it promotes responsible and carefully thought-through investments and decisions, for example). The silver lining to this gray Gen X cloud?  Dare I say Gen Y?  Collectively, Gen Y is optimistic, and rapidly filling the ranks of organizations.  Gen X can leverage Gen Y’s positive and hopeful nature by consulting younger employees and considering their perspectives on business issues.  While we definitely have things to learn from them, I think they could learn a thing or two from us.

Millennials and GenZs, listen up!  There are some major impacts that this small-numbered but large-minded generation will have on the workforce. Get ready to see a vastly different workplace.

And GenXers, if you’re listening/reading, here is my Millennial plea to you: Know thyself.  If you know that you are great peer collaborators but could stand to benefit from collaborating downward, challenge yourself to do so.  We all stand to benefit as a result.  Here’s my next challenge: Don’t let the cultural norms and management leadership styles from previous generations linger.  It’s commonplace and natural to keep the traditions and practices of those who came before you.   But for all of our sakes, stay true to yourself when it comes to scrapping some of the antiquated Boomer and Traditionalist practices that still remain.

Let’s strive for a better work/life balance (even at the top).  Let’s let our knowledge, expertise and experience be the currency of the workplace and help us define our own value, rather than relying on politicking our way upwards.  Let’s couple our diverse perspectives to make better business decisions and to sponsor collaboration in the workplace.

I, for one, am looking forward to the future and welcome the leadership and guidance of Gen X.  Let’s just hope they feel the same way.

*This blog is dedicated to Triple Creek’s “Website Wizard,” who is also Gen X’s biggest fan.

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