In the past decade, media and HR departments have focused on the incoming wave of Millennials and the outgoing Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, Generation X workers have gone largely overlooked. Currently in the majority of leadership roles globally, Gen Xers are the ones changing the nature of work. This examines the under-appreciated impact of this generation in the workplace.
The “Baby Boomers” are those in the generation born between 1946 and 1964. Though no universally accepted timeframe exists for the following generations, the term “Generation X” generally applies to those born between 1965 and 1980. “Millennial” refers to those born between 1980 and 1995, give or take a year.
In 2015, Millennials inched past other generations to become the largest part of the American labor force, when they made up 32.0 percent, compared to 31.2 percent for Gen Xers and 30.6 percent for Boomers. Their percentage of workers continues to climb as Boomers retire.
Despite their fewer numbers, Gen Xers increasingly hold positions of power in the workforce. They currently hold 51 percent of leadership roles globally, with an average of 20 years of work experience.
Generation X experienced unique circumstances growing up. Their youth as well as their present day lives formed certain characteristics.
Gen Xers were latch-key kids who came home from school to an empty house. From an early age, they were on their own to organize their time, with the freedom to make decisions. As a result, this made many managers from this generation independent in their management style. And, they are more entrepreneurial: 55 percent of start-up founders are from Generation X. This independence also makes them ideal leaders in a union-free organization.
This generation built the bridge from analog to digital. They grew up in a computer-free world but were still young when the Internet exploded. They’re technically savvy on par with Millennials. And Gen Xers use social media more, with 81 percent on Facebook. They’re more likely to use tech to engage with the world and keep track of their Millennial children.
Gen Xers are frequently the glue holding together multigenerational households. More Millennial children live at home longer and aging Boomer parents require caretaking. Sixty-seven percent of Gen X leaders are effective in “hyper-collaboration.” In other words, their strength for working with others enables them to shape the future of work by getting people to work together. This could contribute to the continued decline in union membership, as Gen X leaders act more collaboratively across levels of the organization.
While popular focus overlooked Generation X in the workplace, members of this generation entered positions of authority. They continue to move into leadership positions, and they continue to shape and re-shape the future of work. Gen Xers are independent, entrepreneurial, and technically savvy communicators. As a result, they bring generations and staff subgroups together to develop solutions and inspire innovation.