The Generations: Gen X

Let’s kick off our look at the generations, with my own generation, Gen X. Gen X were born between 1965 and 1979 making them between 39 and 53 years old today.

Gen X Traits

These generational labels only have meaning when compared to the generations that precede or follow them. So using this comparative approach, we can define Gen X traits to the following topics as follows:

To Life Aspiration – Gen X aspire to work-life balance – whereas Baby Boomers want job security and Millennials want freedom and flexibility.

The generation in a nutshell – Gen X are known as competitive and independent – Baby boomers were the ‘liberated youth’, Gen X were the ‘competitive youth’, trying to get ahead, and Millennials were the ‘global youth’. Baby boomers created a new stage of life located between being a child in one family and forming your own family. A liberated and free young adulthood. Gen X sought to make something of themselves in this stage of life, working to achieve distinction in the world. Millennials grew up in a world where everyone around the globe is connected, everyone could find others they related to somewhere in the world. Rising to the top of the entire world population was not realistic or desired by Millennials.

To their Relationship to their Career/Employer – Gen X are loyal to their profession, not their employer – whereas Baby Boomers’ careers are aligned and defined by the organisation they work for. Millennials work ‘with’ not ‘for’ their employer.

Attitude to Technology – Gen X are digital immigrants – Gen X are not native users of most modern technology, but are often open to learning. They are at home with email and text message communications and good old face to face.

Core Technology – Gen X grew up with the personal computer as their defining technology. Personal computers did not have intuitive interfaces and required specific skills to operate – Gen X often overthinks when using smart technology as they are not used to how intuitive devices now are.

Five hints for Gen X in the workplace

  1. Be open to learning about new tools and technology from your Millennial colleagues – running projects over email is just not as effective as using a collaboration and communication software platform.
  2. Share information about the organisation and its management with Millennials – they feel they are working with the organisation, not for it.
  3. Show respect to and acknowledge the contribution of your Baby Boomer colleagues – they define themselves by their experience and status.
  4. Embrace the intuitive interface for most devices and apps these days – it is not like the old computers you grew up with. See Gen Alpha kids react to the computers of your youth here.
  5. Look out for misreading a Millennial’s attempt to find a collaborative solution as a lack of independence. As a Gen X you are more primed for independent problem solving, and it is easy to expect too much independence from other generations. Millennials are confident in seeking the input of others rather than toiling for a solution themselves.

Five hints for working with Gen X in the workplace

  1. Gen X work well independently and for some tasks may find it hard to collaborate with colleagues. It doesn’t mean that they don’t value the contributions of others, they are just not used to seeking it.
  2.  Gen X value independence in colleagues and wish their Millennials colleagues would solve more of their problems themselves.
  3. Recognise a Gen X’s professional achievements and the other tasks they are balancing outside of work.
  4. Ask a Gen X to share their problem-solving process. Gen X naturally brainstorm individually for solutions, then seek the input of the team. Millennials are more likely to do the initial brainstorm as a group. The latter is better for teaching as the skills are more easily observed and learnt. So don’t be afraid to ask a Gen X colleague about how they do this early brain storming.
  5. Gen X can be very disciplined and focused on a solution or goal. This can lead to resistance to change and innovation. Help Gen X see the other options.

Check out our Pinterest board on the generations for some useful infographics and comparisons of the generations.

And remember that much of these generational differences are down to the commonalities of human life stages. All older generations think the next generation is less worthy than their own. This is because everyone lives in the context of their upbringing – they value the traits that were most desired by the society they were raised in. These values shift over time, hence the negative viewpoint of those who come along later with different values.

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