What About Gen X? Empower the Ignored Generation in the Workplace

Deanna Hartley

Forgotten. Lost. Ignored. Overlooked. No, we’re not talking about Mindy Kaling or this year’s other outrageous Emmy snubs; these are actually terms that have been used to describe Gen X.

Generally defined as individuals born between 1966 and 1980, give or take a few years, Gen Xers have to contend with the fact that they’re sandwiched between their more buzzed-about workplace counterparts: baby boomers and millennials. The Pew Research Center has referred to this generation as “America’s neglected middle child.”

Can you remember the last time you picked up a conference agenda and saw a bunch of sessions about Gen X? Yeah, me neither.

Gen X: Characteristics and Challenges

First, some basic math: There are fewer Gen Xers (65 million) in the world than there are baby boomers (77 million) and millennials (approximately 83 million).

Some common characteristics that have been associated with this generation are that they’re generally tech savvy, self-reliant, and want to be entrepreneurial and get ahead at work. When asked what makes their generation unique, in a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, Gen X stated their technology use, work ethic, conservative/traditional values, and that they’re smarter and respectful.

According to a Catalyst report: “The oldest members [of Gen X] could be entering senior-level management roles while the younger members entering/approaching mid-career and senior-level supervisory roles. Many members of Generation X embrace diversity and entrepreneurship.”

Still, many of them feel stuck in their careers. In fact, according to a 2011 study by the Center for Talent Innovation, nearly half of Gen Xers have said they felt stalled in their careers.

Tips to Empower Gen X In The Workplace

So the question is: How can you help the Gen Xers in your organization who, let’s face it — may be feeling a bit left out — get back in the spotlight? Here are some ideas worth trying:

  • Give them a voice. In a Forbes piece on how to motivate different generations, one Gen Xer said: “We were a smaller generation who felt no one was listening to us. We felt we had to fight [to have a voice, to make an impact, to earn a seat at the table of power].” Many Gen Xers are more hesitant to waltz into an authority figure’s office to talk about ideas or issues they’re facing. It’s that self-reliance, remember? So managers should find a way to regularly touch base with and communicate with Gen X employees to let them know that their ideas and opinions are valued.
  • Give them opportunities for growth. This is really important because, as we’ve said before, nearly half of this generation feel like their careers are stalled. Here’s an interesting quote in a BBC piece that may sum up how many Gen Xers feel: “The appetite just doesn’t seem to be there for much of a Generation X imprint on the workplace before the millennials take over. There’s a feeling they won’t be there that long — kind of like Prince Charles who’s just in the way between Queen Elizabeth and Prince William.” All the more reason to invest in their growth and development to prove to this generation that they aren’t just placeholders.
  • Give them space to be entrepreneurial. A Center for Talent Innovation study found that “70 percent of Gen Xers prefer to work independently and, of those who like being their own boss, 81 percent cited a desire for control over their work.” Providing some form of autonomy for Gen Xers over their work and encouraging them to take reasonable risks and be entrepreneurial can help to keep this generation motivated.

Tell us in the comments below: What traits and characteristics do you most typically associate with Gen Xers that you think makes them unique? How, if you do at all, manage this generation differently from the rest? Share your insights with us on the CareerBuilder for Employers Facebook page.

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