These children of the Baby Boomers, born between 1964 and 1980, were the generation labeled ‘latchkey kids’, learning at an early age that self-reliance was a necessity, with both their parents frequently pursuing successful careers. To their own kids, they are often the exact opposite, being hyper-involved and careful, but they still behave with the understanding they gained so young—that it was their responsibility to complete a project, but having someone looking over their shoulder while it happens can feel odd and uncomfortable.
This generation tends to have the highest level of education yet, but this came at a very high personal and financial cost, as author Tammy Erickson notes: “The government made significant cuts in educational grants, shifting the burden of funding toward loans. […] Many [Gen Xers] entered adult life with high levels of college-related debt.”
This occurred when the high-population-density Boomers were filling the workforce and the economy was slow, so their careers got off to a slow start. Because of this, they don’t see a career as the center of their life, but rather as an attachment to their life, and to some a necessity. Average incomes have been consistently lower for this generation than for the Boomers before them, and Gen Xers are the first generation to switch between a dozen or so careers over the course of their lifetimes. They learned that their companies won’t necessarily be loyal to them, so they value being able to craft their own careers and experiences, and consider themselves successful because they are adaptable.
Because of their upbringing and past experiences, Gen Xers want a strong work/life balance: they don’t live to work, and they want a schedule that will allow them to be a part of their children’s lives, to have hobbies, to maintain their own happiness and health. They work best when given freedom and autonomy. Because of what they witnessed from society and from their employers, they are cautious with their trust and loyalty. So any leader managing Gen Xers can’t expect blind trust if Xers don’t hear feedback often, reflecting their company’s commitment to them and their advancement. Advancement, in this case, means a clear path of upward mobility, which proves that there is a plan to keep them around. What implications do these experiences have on your leading the multi-generational workforce?
Gen Xers, along with Millennials, enjoy technology and are more accustomed to using it; they can be attracted to a company based on how up-to-date and leading edge their technology is. They interpret this as how committed to the present and how flexible a company is—if their technology enables easier lives for employees or if it ties them tightly to an office.
Generation X has seen its ups and downs and developed a lot of traits to maintain a safety net in rough times. How do those the traits of Gen Xers affect your ability to attract and retain them as talent for your company? And how do you leverage and manage them within a multi-generational workforce?
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