Who Are the Xers?
Generation X, also referred to as the “Slacker Generation,” “Latchkeys,” “MTV Generation,” or “Baby Busters,” were born between 1965 and 1979. They make up a small band of 60 million, and because of their small population size—squeezed between two huge generations—they’re often referred to as “the forgotten middle child.” Pretty bleak, eh? Even though the oldest Xers have hit the big 5-0, their generation has struggled to shake the image of the Nirvana-obsessed, apathetic, plaid-wearing slacker. The truth? They’re leading the workforce as innovative (if sometimes sarcastic) contributors, and are at the forefront of some of the most disruptive workplace shifts we’ve seen to date.
When Xers came of age, it felt like the world was coming apart at the seams. This perception was probably heightened by the onset of CNN’s 24-hour news cycle. As the news became more of a business than a strictly informational platform, those 24 hours were filled with all the salacious stories that captured viewers’ attention: murder, sex, crime, avarice… it was all a part of the media diet of the day. Long-revered institutions like NASA began being called into question. There seemed to be a tale of wrongdoing under every stone the media turned. The government (Nixon, Clinton, Iran-contra affair), the corporate world (the Tylenol scare, Enron), athletes (OJ Simpson, Pete Rose), and even Hollywood (Milli Vanilli)—nothing and no one was untouchable. But it wasn’t just the stuff onscreen that was troubling. For Xers, even the neighborhood itself seemed to grow more treacherous. As they poured milk into their Count Chocula cereal, they stared into the face of a missing kid on their milk carton. It was a daily reminder of the spiking crime rate, child abductions, and stranger danger. Growing up in this time of uncertainty, Xers developed a healthy skepticism of the world around them.
From 1960 to 1980—smack-dab in the middle of Xers’ formative years—the divorce rate more than doubled. There were also more women in the workforce than ever before. With one or both parents trying to clock in their 40 hours of work (at least), many Xers were left to fend for themselves after school. As many as 40% of Gen Xers were latchkey kids. They sported a key on a cord around their necks and let themselves in while their parents finished out the work day. At home and unsupervised, Xers became pros at organizing their own time. They learned to be independent early on—letting themselves in the house after school, microwaving Pop Tarts for dinner, getting their homework done—and no one was hovering over them or giving them a gold star for a job well-done. Naturally, Xers learned to be extremely self-reliant and independent. As they’ve entered adulthood and the working world, they have quietly rebelled against their childhood experience and committed to crafting a different reality for their Gen Edge children. For Xers, time at home with their families is sacred, and to protect their family time, Xers demand work-life balance and workplace efficiency.
Masters of Media
As kids, Xers’ favorite babysitter (and often only babysitter) was the good ‘ole TV. During this time of media explosion, Xers found community in shared interests. Music, TV, movies, and video games brought them together as true media darlings. They consumed programming as if their lives depended on it, watching thousands of hours of television before they’d even hit their 20s. Xers were (and are) defined by their pop culture affiliations. Could you sing along to the latest School House Rock ditty? Did you know the moves to the Thriller music video? Were you a boss at DK? If the answer was yes, you had instant buy-in into the Xer inner circle. The hours they spent watching the boob tube were formative, for sure, but let’s not forget the impact of the personal computer. While Millennials often get credited as the tech generation, it was young Xers who first learned to navigate new technologies, including the computer and video game consoles like Atari, the Commodore 64, and the NES. They became highly adaptable to change, a trait that served them well when they entered a floundering job market. Their adaptability to change, coupled with a distrust of traditional institutions, created ideal conditions for a generation of entrepreneurs. Elon Musk of Tesla, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Sergey Brin & Larry Page, the founders of Google, are just a sampling of iconic Gen X business moguls who have disrupted the world as we know it.
How Do Xers Show Up in the Workplace?
Today, the oldest Xers have hit their early 50s. They’re keeping it All in the Family, and have worked hard to create a safe, familial home atmosphere that resembles the nuclear families they watched on TV. Entrepreneurial and hardworking, Xers have ascended into leadership positions, but many are still waiting for the day those everlasting Boomers retire.
- Independent: As latchkey kids, Xers grew up without the intense supervision that was the status quo for Millennials. Xers learned that “if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself.” They’ve brought this self-reliance with them into the workplace, and often prefer to work alone, allergic to the (for Xers) endless Boomer meetings and Millennial brainstorming sessions. Trust us when we tell you that Xers prefer, and really value, their solo time and solo projects. If you try to micromanage them, they’ll be out the door before you can say “team meeting.”
- Transparent + Honest: During Xers’ formative years, they developed an unfiltered, direct style of communication, and their no-BS approach can sometimes be misconstrued as blunt to the point of mean (there is some truth to those stories about Millennial tears). In reality, Xers are brutally honest simply because they care. They’ll pipe up and poke holes to vet an idea when they want the person and project to succeed. If they weren’t invested, you better believe that an Xer would just sit back and watch the car-wreck of an idea self-implode, popcorn in hand.
- Work/Life Balance: Unwilling to sacrifice family time to earn a promotion, Xers reject the notion that more hours in the office = a more productive, hard-working employee. They are fiercely protective of their time, and aren’t afraid to prop up a sturdy barrier between their work and personal lives. To ensure they make it to their kid’s hockey game, their modus operandi is efficient, streamlined, and to the point. They’ll earn that spot on the leadership team the Xer way, by cutting the fat and frivolities and focusing on effective and targeted action. From 9am to 6pm they’ll give you their all, but once 6:01pm hits, as the kids say—they out.