Revenge of the Generational Middle Child: Xers Make their Next Move

Turn on the TV, open any newspaper, or go online. However you choose to get your news, one thing seems clear: Millennials are everywhere these days. There is a lot of curiosity and excitement around this generation and for good reason. Born between 1980 and 1995, Millennials will make up 50% of the American workforce by 2020.

A Google search for Baby Boomers will also give you a slew of articles. With approximately 10,000 Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) turning 65 every day, there is a lot of interest in how this generation will redefine retirement and the consequent implications.

Understanding what inspires and motivates these generations has become more important than ever for organizations.

Then there’s Generation X. Full disclosure: I am a Gen Xer, and I love it. I love that I was a child of the '80s and '90s. I love that I can tell you what it’s like to work on a Commodore 64 or a MacBook Air. I love that I grew up in a time when TV shows had theme songs and that I can remember wondering aloud if this “internet thing” was going to last. But there is no denying that in the world of generational research and theory, Xers are sometimes the forgotten middle child. Cue the violin.

Why so lost in the middle? Xers are 20 million less in population than both Boomers and Millennials (we can thank the pill for that). And, just like any other generation, they are unique. Understanding how to engage and motivate this complex generation sandwiched between two larger ones has proven difficult for organizations. Gen Xers are in their late 30s and 40s and ready to take that next step whether it be a promotion, pay raise, or the modern corner office. But many Xers have found their career paths blocked, or at least stalled, by the “the gray ceiling,” a phenomenon where Baby Boomers stay longer in their senior-level positions instead of retiring. And many organizations are at a loss as to what to do about it.

Some Gen Xers are taking things into their own hands. They are leaving for other companies, starting their own businesses, or freelancing to meet their professional and personal needs. But what can companies do with restless Xers when there is no way around or through the gray ceiling?

#1 - Offer real opportunities for advancement and growth while appealing to Xers' values and traits.
Show the Gen Xers on your team that their climb to the top, while perhaps in limbo, will be worth the wait because your company understands what’s important.

#2 - Help Gen Xers balance work and life commitments.
Many Gen Xers are the children of divorced parents who placed a high value on professional growth at the expense of time spent with family. As a result, Xers now prioritize work-life balance. They want to be at home in time for dinner. They want to make it to the T-ball games. Many are choosing jobs closer to home over higher salaries.

#3 - Give them mobility and autonomy.
Gen Xers are used to doing things on their own with minimal supervision. Avoid micromanagement and allow Gen Xers to work independently, trusting them to get the job done.

As an employer, you cannot afford to let Xers disengage because they are the vast majority of future leaders. Here are some bonus tips:

  • Offer telecommuting and flexible work schedules to help Gen Xers juggle work and family.
  • Utilize comp days as incentives for productivity. Awards banquets and incentives that take place outside of work hours rarely appeal to Xers as it is now the thing keeping them from being with their families.
  • Provide personal time-saving services (e.g., dry cleaning) as perks.
  • Keep red tape to a minimum. Instead, encourage free thinking and entrepreneurialism.
  • Make sure meetings have a point and are beneficial.

Remember: an Xer’s loyalty is not always steadfast and unwavering. This is an entrepreneurial and self-driven generation. Jumping into a different industry or starting a new venture may involve some risk for an Xer, but so does staying in a go-nowhere job. Work with them on their future before you become their past.