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Gen X in the workplace: Stuck in the middle

As we all know, Generation X is stuck in the middle of the two largest generations in history (the baby boomers and the millennials). At the "Rally to Restore Sanity" this past weekend, Jon Stewart used the example of cars merging into the Lincoln Tunnel as proof that people make compromises every day in order to get things done. He highlighted a "you go, and then I go" philosophy that enables us to navigate through our lives. Just as with Stewart's congested tunnel, the modern workplace is jammed with three generations cramming to move forward, but sometimes it feels like there's simply too much in the way of our meager little Xer generation to merge.

1. X Sandwich
A few weeks ago a column out of Richmond, VA, captured the generational debate: youngsters want the ol' fogeys out of the way, while the boomers want to keep on working, taking offense at the mention of yielding to their children. Between these perspectives are Gen-Xers. Boomers are staying put--either exercising their own sense of entitlement by indifferently coasting in tenured and senior positions without fears of being fired, or legitimately hustling through the onset of their golden years to squirrel away enough cash to retire. While the Government Accountability Office reported in 2006 the expectation that many boomers would work beyond the retirement age, few could have anticipated that scores of boomers would face the end of their careers without enough money to exit.

On the flip side, millennials seem impatient to advance up the corporate ladder, occasionally being slammed for their own sense of entitlement. As both groups jockey for position, Gen-Xers are left to alternately fend off overeager newbies and patiently wait to earn a rare opening at the top. Either way it's a battlefield, and no-man's land is an uncomfortable place to be.

2. Latchkey managers
Many Gen-Xers grew up as latchkey kids, having to care for themselves and in some cases their parents and siblings. Similarly, some Gen-Xers have surpassed their boomer counterparts in the corporate hierarchy, finding themselves in an equally awkward position and asking: "How can I manage someone who is ten to twenty years older than I am?"

In Managing the Older Worker, authors Cappelli and Novelli rightly point out that Gen-Xers' perceptions of older workers are part of the problem, as we might wrongly assume that they are less than adequate workers simply because we have advanced past them. But boomers play a part too, sometimes resisting the direction of a junior boss solely because of age or shutting down to become retired-on-the-job, collecting a paycheck by doing the bare minimum. At the same time, Gen-X managers are showing millennials the ropes, while often finding that this younger set values the end product more than they value the time they spend at the office and that they may not expect to sacrifice their highly prized work/home-life balance in order to advance their career.

3. Loyalty vs. growth
Gen-Xers have traditionally been slammed for their lack of loyalty. For one, many in the Gen-X cohort grew up watching adults in our lives getting kicked to the curb by large corporations, a prescient warning (further bolstered by recent layoffs) of what can happen when loyalty is one-sided. To further confound the loyalty issue, boomers make up 40 percent of the US's 140 million person workforce, and they're not leaving anytime soon.

As a result, many Gen-Xers have been in the same position for quite a while, butting up against the Gray Ceiling, a stagnating phenomenon that leaves us wondering how to grow when advancement isn't coming soon. To boot, millenials aren't helping our cause. Some suggest that they're more loyal to employers than their parents or Gen-X have been. Either way, in carving out an advancing career path, Gen-Xers have to get creative and hustle for temporary projects, new assignments, opportunities at remote locations and, yes, even opportunities at new companies.

4. Overcoming the trust deficit
In 1988 Peter Drucker, groundbreaking management scholar, wrote, "The final requirement of effective leadership is to earn trust. Otherwise there won't be any followers--and the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers." For our fellow Gen-Xers, trust and the workplace don't really go hand in hand. We've come of age in a volatile corporate climate, watching some of the largest corporate scandals and takedowns in American history. According to a Maritz Poll released earlier this year, "Employees' trust toward their workplace has taken a severe hit, with employees across all industry segments citing a lack of trust in not only senior leaders, but direct managers and co-workers as well."

Similarly, the IRS reports that prosecution recommendations regarding corporate fraud have increased each of the past three years, and a recent Gallup poll shows that only 11 percent of respondents have a Great Deal or Quite A Lot of confidence in big business. In fact, according to the 2010 Trust Index, the United States as a whole ranks 19th in the world in trust, falling behind Iraq, China and Saudi Arabia. This lack of trust makes for a bewildering work environment. As a generation, we don't trust the people around us; and perhaps there's good reason not too. But as Drucker suggests, regardless of whether we're following or leading, we have to figure out ways to move past mistrust.

5. Tech comfort zone
Once again, Gen-Xers find ourselves in the middle of a befuddling reality. As we work to navigate our careers, we notice the divide between our upbringing and those of the baby boomers and millennials. We all know how comfy these newbies are with gadgets. Growing up with video-game systems, cell phones, computers and the Internet, they're the most eager generation to embrace technology and are setting the bar for its use. Even the American Library Association (ALA) has weighed in, contrasting their preference for Google and instant messaging with the baby boomers' interest in Business Week and USA Today. (Sadly, the ALA doesn't give Gen-Xers any love, simply stating they "don't read as much," "prefer fewer words" and look to "visual stimulation." See what an upbringing without J. K. Rowling and the dawn of commercialized cable television will do!)  

The downside to the youngsters' tech savvy, according to The 2009 National Business Ethics Survey, is that they're more likely to be okay with writing negatively online about their companies, as well as with holding onto confidential documents. In a world where information is fast and loose, they don't discriminate.

Given that baby boomers tend to play things a little closer to the vest, Gen-Xers are best positioned to bridge both worlds. Gen-Xers understand how the boomers can be so perplexed by the new crop of workers, always connected to their mobile devices and social networks. We also get the millennials' confusion at the workaholic tendencies of their boomer counterparts, who sometimes don't seem to have lives outside of the office.

Extending Stewart's analogy, the Gen-X fate may be for us to become the all-important traffic cops, assuming responsibility for brokering between the generations on either side of us to keep this traffic moving along. The only question left is, what's our whistle?

Have an idea for what we should write about next? Be in touch at info@menoconsulting.com, connect with us at Facebook, or visit us at Meno Consulting.

By Joe Frontiera and Dan Leidl  |  November 1, 2010; 3:02 PM ET  | Category:  Leadership , Pop Culture , Young leaders Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Back atcha Boomers: The tribute list | Next: The disillusionment of Generation X


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On the positive side of the generation gap, I've noticed two healthy traits about my fellow Xers.

1. The ability and willingness to make tough decisions. Far too many Boomers are looking not to rock the boat as they frantically save for retirement and/or college tuition bills.

2. Enough tech-savvy to use it all, but enough skill to navigate when the technology fails. Case in point: We had a group of b-school students give us a presentation as part of their internship. About a third of the way through, the light bulb on the projector burned out! The 20-something students were completely at sea, but the older students were able to just move right over into giving the presentation verbally.

Yes, we GenXers are the Han Solo to the Boomer's Obi-Wan and the Millenials Luke Skywalker, but that gives us traits that will come in handy as we move forward.

Posted by: Jacknut | November 10, 2010 11:37 AM

This is the funniest thing I've read in a long time. Whine, whine, whine. Disrespect everyone around you. Believe that you have it hard while they have had it easy. That's a sure recipe for advancement! But beyond that, there is so much self-deceit in in all of this that you are hurting yourself in ways that go further than simply income and wealth...

Posted by: zzhermes11 | November 9, 2010 8:31 PM

@morrisday1 ---

do you work for Morris-Day?

Posted by: fendertweed | November 9, 2010 3:07 PM

"[F]ew could have anticipated that scores of boomers would face the end of their careers without enough money to exit." Really? Haven't there been scores of news stories about that very possibility going back decades?
Posted by: jbindc | November 3, 2010 12:12 PM


Big YES!!!! I'm in my mid 40's and i new in my early 20's there would be enough in SS for me. So if I new, then so did those old folks!

I tell my mother that i OWN her since i am currently paying for her SS! LOL gives us both a giggle.

Posted by: nall92 | November 9, 2010 8:48 AM

Baby Boomers, do not retire just to make the younger group advance.

Do not retire so that your own struggling kids today have opportunities you had, and trust me they're struggling still living in your house, with massive student loan debt, credit card debt, no savings, no 401k $, children and few spouses.

Retire so that the organizations you work for can grow. Notice how during your leadership, they're struggling too. Cause overstaying your welcome at work has only helped you financially (to a degree) although you've bungled that with too much spending, too many companies failing, fed gov failures, state gov struggles, county and city gov layoffs due to overspending.

So leave for the sake of the employers you work for. And let us try to fix the mess.

Posted by: morrisday1 | November 8, 2010 9:08 AM

I've noticed the gray ceiling at work. The boomers are blown away that the Gen-Xers and Millenials don't understand the seniority system, and it seems to me that the Gen-Xers are going to suffer as the seniority system falls, the Millenials will move up as the Gen-Xers have been stuck between moving up the ladder, but not able to claim their education is as relevant as a fresh one. I've already seen this at work. For special assignments, internships, details, etc... they are being filled by Millenials or younger end of the Boomer spectrum. The older millenials and younger Gen-Xers that have 10 years of experience in tend to get left out. I do think that the Gen-Xers will get caught in between the paradigm shift. They tended to follow, or had to follow, the boomer rules, but enough of the millenials are getting through such that the rules will change. From what I've witnessed, the boomers are expecting to work even longer, and have become much less willing to mentor the Gen-Xers, and ironically, the Millenials will be much better mentors. The GOOD thing about being a Gen-Xer is that indeed there WILL be a social security system there for us, with all those Millenials working so hard, maybe we can get a break in the stock market and afford to retire early knowing there are all those Millenials being us paying into the SS system.

Posted by: NovaMike | November 7, 2010 9:15 PM

As a Gen-Exer (born in 1967) I was laid off in 2005 from a job I was perfect for, and was replaced by two younger workers because they thought they could get two people to do four times as much work...but these people were even too young to rent a car! I finally got a another job almost a year later, but because of the economy, I have not had any "raise" since 2007. Even so, I am making less than I was back in 2003, adjusted for inflation. I think the economy has has just as much influence on the advancement of Gen-Xers because Boomers have to stay in the market longer...and everything is at a standstill. No job creation, no ability to retire, no advancement, no raises. At my yearly review, it was "no raise, but at least you still have a job." Other jobs I had back in the 1990s and eary 2000s were clearly demarcated by boomers who absolutely were in control and let everyone know all about it. At least we had raises back then.

Posted by: oaktown | November 7, 2010 2:16 PM

I am what you may claim to be a latchkey millennial and I do agree that different generations approach and advance through the workplace at different rates, but I do not agree that the Gen-X is stuck in the middle. Yes, they are literally the generation in the middle, but are they really STUCK? As people of a working society, we are all going to feel stuck at some point. Competence and drive will get you far within an organization and if that doesn't seem to be the case than you may want to consider working for a different organization. Honestly all the generations have negative forces working against them.

Posted by: blynch1 | November 7, 2010 2:09 PM

As a Gen-X'er, I'm trying to figure out the loyalty thing.

Yes, I had friends who jumped from job to job. But there were plenty of us - myself included - who wanted to be loyal to a company and were laid off. Or a Boomer manager stabbed us in the back.

It's interesting that we're not perceived as being loyal when the job market changed under our feet forcing us to have multi-page resumes. I got tired of being regretfully laid off by Boomers and started my own business.

I'm also trying to figure out why we apparently don't read as much. I read as much as or more than many Boomers of my acquaintance.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | November 7, 2010 12:39 PM

The Boomers are not the “older generation” currently in the workforce. That distinction belongs to the folks born in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Yes, in the white-collar/technical/office world, there are quite a few persons in their late 60s and 70s… who have no intention to retire. This is especially true in the public sector and in traditional fields such as the defense industry. What does this mean? It means that the Boomers will likely solve the problem of under-funded retirement by working not just another 10 years, but perhaps another 20 or more. And it means that there are 4 generations currently jockeying in the workplace, not 3. But for Gen-X’ers this isn’t necessarily bad news, as the “silent generation” was also relatively small and underappreciated… so, the two cohorts have much in common.

Posted by: ol_70 | November 7, 2010 10:31 AM

I am on the cusp of baby boom, gen x and have had an interesting career so far. For the first 20 years I was blocked by all the boomers ahead of me so I developed a lot of parallel skills that have served me awfully well the last 10 years. So I work for gen x bosses yet am recognized for having a depth that most of their peers do not have.

Posted by: chet_brewer | November 7, 2010 10:16 AM

How sad that the pop culture labels now pass for serious analysis. There is far less to the attempt to understand people through these silly generational labels than meets the eyes. We can't stereotype people according race, gender, ethnic background, etc. so we stereotype them according to the year of their birth.

Posted by: fcodispoti | November 7, 2010 9:46 AM

I think the labeling of generations by specific years is kind of silly. I am much more concerned with whether my boss is an idiot than how old he or she is. In this day and age, your boss might be younger, older, woman, man, different nationality, different religion, whatever, you have to be able to deal with it. New companies are started every day. If there is a bottleneck a few years older than you are at some company, look elsewhere.
I was born in 1962 and I don't fit in with boomers or Xers, but I'm much closer to the Xers. My dad was not all that young when I was born (30), but he was too young to have been in WWII. His dad was in WWII. In fact, Alexandra2009, someone born in 1946 has nothing in common with someone born in 1964 and might even be their parent.

Posted by: didnik | November 7, 2010 5:49 AM

The so-called Boomers are really two groups. Those born after the mid-Fifties didn't have a very easy time, because those who were born earlier had, by dint of their sheer numbers, saturated the job market, leaving very few opportunities for younger Boomers. It wasn't the older Boommers' fault; it was simply a function of the enormous increase in the population in the postwar years.

Don't expect the younger Boomers, many of whom don't have the pensions that older Boomers have, to get out of the way anytime soon. They didn't underestimate the cost of retirement; as young workers, they simply didn't have the power to stop the dismantling of the defined benefit pension system by employers who wanted to shift the cost and the risk inherent in funding pensions to the workers, and they were powerless to command the increases in pay that would have been needed to make up for the benefits they would otherwise have earned. Some realized what was happening and went to court to fight it. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that treating younger workers less generously did not constitute age discrimination, and so ruled against them. Now we are seeing the ramifications of that decision all too clearly, because, unlike younger workers, they won't have enough time for their 401(k) contributions to accumulate to an amount sufficient to fund a comfortable retirement, and, unlike older workers and retirees, they weren't effectively protected from pension cuts by grandfathering. It isn't their fault, and neither is the fact that they must work past age 65 to qualify for full Social Security benefits. Many whom I know would be only too glad to get out of the way, but they can't afford to do that.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou362 | November 6, 2010 9:20 PM

I am an older GenXer, having been born in 1965. I was raised by a father who was older, 43 y/o when I was born and had experienced good times and very bad in the Depression. The boomers are not allowing us to move up and let the millenials take our slots. I am competing with millenials (like my adult daughters) who should be in my place, not in competition with me for work. My life experience is not being considered in the workforce.

Posted by: kodonivan | November 6, 2010 7:46 PM

It is time for _some_ boomers to go. Hanging on just because EEOC rules allow you to retire at work is a terrible example. From my experience, there too many boomers in the Federal workspace punching a clock without contributing anything.

Posted by: DCDontDance | November 6, 2010 2:57 PM

Try being at the older end of Gen X.

We have bosses that won't and can't retire (so we can rise) because of the economy who squeeze bonus pay by hiring an unqualified and immature yet cheaper workforce to increase profits.

I'm far from the only one who has noticed this trend.

Posted by: clandestinetomcat | November 6, 2010 12:25 PM

By no means is Gen-X getting squeezed. As a generation characterized by apprehension about its prospects, their pro-business attitudes give them a marked advantage. In the aerospace-defense industry in which I work, they are the majority of managers. Furthermore, one can expect them to dominate the corner offices until their kids' generation, Gen-Z, replaces them.

Posted by: kgblankinship1 | November 6, 2010 10:29 AM

I also can agree with NoWhine's sentiments. Listening to some of the other 20 something people in the office makes me shake my head in disgust. I am 28 and wouldn't task some of these people with anything important, let alone something that requires a lot of face time with customers.

Posted by: BurtReynolds | November 6, 2010 9:53 AM

As a 28 year old workaholic who doesn't waste time with Facebook or Twitter, I for one don't want to see some of the Boomers go. Yeah, their generation has taken what the Greatest Generation created and turned into a debt-ridden mess started in 1980, but when I am at the office the most rewarding conversations I'll have in a day are usually with the older folks who sit near me. I also don't mind showing them how to fix something in Powerpoint.

As far as loyalty, I'll be as loyal as I think the company is. I am on my second job out of college. My first company was unwilling to pay me fairly in the DC labor market despite glowing reviews, so I went looking. In the two years at my current company, I've advanced to a management role and have seem my compensation rise with those added responsibilities. If this type of treatment continues for the next 30 years (or until the grave..retirement might be a crazy pipe dream once my generation reaches our 60's), I'd have very little reason to look elsewhere. Of course, I doubt it will. In fact, I'd prefer not to change jobs, but I will if I feel I am being shortchanged or the ship is sinking due to poor decisions made my senior management.

Posted by: BurtReynolds | November 6, 2010 8:26 AM

In case it is not -obvious- know that; any of the characterizations people make about this subject are not true of everyone. I'm pretty sure that most people can agree on that much...

I'm an X-person, it's not exactly a fun generation to be in. The Boomers were all about being unapologetically the "Me generation" and still have a whole lot of that going on. People who've kept that perspective are not likely to suddenly lose it later in life.

At the same time though they're retiring and in the workforce in a diminishing quantity as time goes by. The gap between them and Millennials is really severe. One of the problems that comes with that is that it's less obvious to the Millennials what they don't know, and why that ignorance matters. The result really is a lot more effort on the part of Gen-X people to make sure information doesn't get lost.

Theres demographic pressure here that no amount of wishing is going to make easier. The US is actually somewhat lucky that it doesn't have any sort of mandatory retirement age.

Posted by: Nymous | November 6, 2010 6:43 AM

Boomers are over - too expensive to retain. As each Boomer is laid off, is offered and accepts a "package", or is axed, valuable experience is lost.

GenXers are very close to being in the same boat. When corporate America wants to cut costs, they cut people and it's not the poor performers that get "laid off," it's the most expensive. Boomers are essentially gone and that leaves the GenXers to go after.

Corporate loyalty is history - both employee-to-company and company-to-employee.

Damn shame, but that's the way it is.

Posted by: JayArgee | November 5, 2010 8:30 PM

I'll be glad when I can retire in 10 years and not have to deal with stupid millennials that say "like" 3 times per sentence and who ask questions and when they don't like the answers they dismss it..Because they know so much more peple 40 and above, growing up with the internet, they know everything. Just ask them.

Posted by: nowhine | November 5, 2010 8:16 PM

So a few weeks ago there was a Post article saying the retirement age should be raised to 70 because the Boomers are going to break Social Security. Now we are being told Boomers should retire early so that Gen-X can advance.
I have a better idea. Let's set up "Retirement Camps". Load the Boomers into the camps and send them to the showers.
Problems all gone.

Posted by: mmad2 | November 5, 2010 8:15 PM

So a few weeks ago there was a Post article saying the retirement age should be raised to 70 because the Boomers are going to break Social Security. Now we are being told Boomers should retire early so that Gen-X can advance.
I have a better idea. Let's set up "Retirement Camps". Load the Boomers into the camps and send them to the showers.
Problems all gone.

Posted by: mmad2 | November 5, 2010 8:14 PM

Quick note to the authors. A score equals twenty. It would take a heck of a lot of scores to equal the millions (tens of millions?) of "boomers [who] face the end of their careers without enough money to exit."

Posted by: Charles_Day@comcast.net | November 5, 2010 5:36 PM

First, regarding where the Boomers end and the X-ers start, generational boundaries aren't crisp, they're fuzzy. Think about it. I was born in 1958 (a boomer); too young for the summer of love or Vietnam or to be part of the Civil Rights Movement, as was someone born in, say, 1968 (an X-er). On the other hand, someone born in 1948 (a boomer) likely had his or her life heavily influenced by all three events.

One of my biggest concerns is that, over the next ten years, the workforce will be clogged with boomers who want to retire, but, having grossly underestimated the cost of maintaining their present standard of living, simply don't have the money. This is not the recipe for a productive, motivated work force. Combined with many millenials' unrealistic expectations about the ratio of effort to financial success, X-er managers really are going to be in a tough place motivating their workers.

Posted by: Charles_Day@comcast.net | November 5, 2010 5:33 PM

Assuming Gen Xers are less loyal than the Baby Boomers, how much of that growing disloyalty has to do with the change in job security? Baby Boomers had more security and many had promised pension funds. Gen Xers entered a job market more focused on neo-liberal economics, with contracting and consulting the norm. Promotion and long-term work are no longer a norm in the work force. Loyalty is a two way street. If companies can not provide a reliable future, why would an employee invest their time and loyalty to the company?

Posted by: akwaba | November 5, 2010 5:01 PM

How about each to his ( her) own abilities ?
Each age group obviously brings different skills and perspectives to the table.
We need complimentarity. That is, we need to learn from each other, and have the humility necessary to do so.
Technology use is often a function of personality type, and how one innately organizes information.
One of my daughters is a polymorphic individual and so she is very comfortable with using blue tooth, negotiating business, shopping, and talking with her dad at the same time.
Now, I am more sequential and so email is for me. But since I studied computer science I can build structures to handle and verify information, and retrieve items quickly when needed.
Why can't we have both approaches, along with others coexisting in any organization?

Posted by: peterroach | November 5, 2010 4:39 PM

Alexandria2009: There are differing opinions on the late 50's-early 60's babies being Boomers or not, and it has nothing to do with Barack Obama. And there most definitely was a generation in between WWII adults and post-War babies. My parents and their siblings were born during the war and have little in common culturally with most Boomers.

I do think that being Gen X has a disadvantage just from being smaller in number. I've worked in places where the majority of the staff is 50+ or below 30. It's rather isolating. But I'm hardly impatient for my oldest colleagues to retire, though, since they take so much knowledge with them. My only gripe is cultural -- specifically the annoying amount of media hoopla over every Boomer milestone or anniversary. Millenials, you have no idea how lucky you are that Gen X never had a Woodstock or a Summer of Love.

Posted by: TracyDC | November 5, 2010 1:08 PM

Actually, there is a generation between the "Greatest Generation" and the "Baby Boomers." It has become known as the "Silent Generation." I am fortunate to be a part of that wonderful generation, and wouldn't have it any other way. NOW, all you folks in the workforce, I expect you to quit grousing and keep your nose to the grindstone. You have social security and medicare to pay for. Get on with it!!

Posted by: rltlaw | November 5, 2010 10:47 AM

1) Obama is a Boomer. He was born on August 4, 1961. The Baby Boom generation is made up of people born between 1946 - 1964.

Just because the boomers would rather not be associated with him, does not make him a GenXer.

2) There is no generation between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom. The Baby Boom was produced when the Greatest Generation returned from WWII.

3) There is no generation between the Baby Boom Generation and X. No matter how much the younger Boomers dislike the older ones they are still the product of the same Baby Boom.

Boomers, please stop with the identity crisis.

As far as X being disloyal, I don't think that is an accurate assessment. X has been told for a long time that they are responsible for putting their time in and paying their dues without reward (social security, job security). This has been accepted as fact. X has reacted in a realistic way, by negotiating the best immediate situation possible and being mobile in the workforce.

I also don't think we know what the Millennials will really bring to the table yet, it is just too early to tell given that the youngest portion of them is only 9 right now.

Posted by: Alexandria2009 | November 5, 2010 10:29 AM

As a Gen-Xer, I can say there are some innovative boomers--those who have kept up and adopted more fluid ideas (much like many Gen-Xers have adopted some ideas from the millenials) but overall, I have to say retiring in place is a big problem--especially in government. The biggest problem there is that the old guard bommers use the arcane rules of the bureaucracy to stop innovation and the innovation could save the taxpayers a lot of money--but it would mean making the boomers who have retired in place actually retire and they refuse.

Posted by: Prosperity2008 | November 5, 2010 7:36 AM

RDERR27, "we've always done it that way" isn't new. It happened in the 1960s and 1970s and probably every other era. It's human nature

Similarly, the idea that Boomers should retire to make way for younger people is laughable. I was as ambitious as you are, but I didn't expect my older colleagues to retire just to clear a path for me. That's ridiculous.

Most of this carping about generations is idiotic; nearly everything mentioned here has happened before. Did any of you study history?

Posted by: semolina | November 3, 2010 10:31 PM

Why the need to classify human beings by their age? What kind of person says other human beings can't die soon enough for them, based solely on their date of birth? Substitute a racial or ethnic group in Marmac5's comment and see how it reads.

Posted by: femetro | November 3, 2010 7:02 PM

the only decent thing about the younger generations are the females I enjoy,,love you.The rest can stick it along with any idiot fellow boomers that want to keep working.what a bunch of maroons

Posted by: gonville1 | November 3, 2010 6:16 PM

Marmacs, why did it "suck" to be between the Greatest Gen and the Boomers? You'd be my parents' generation, or what I termed the Happy Days generation. 50s kids. YOU are the last generation to have enjoyed a very long period of American prosperity (and generally speaking, peace). Life is not without its hiccups of course and individual results may vary.

Posted by: chunche | November 3, 2010 5:13 PM

I'm curious where you're getting your statistics from. According to the Dept. of Health and Human Services, approximately 66 million people were born between 1964 and 1980, the generally agreed upon period for Generation X. Between 1981 and 2000, the generally agreed upon period for the Millennial Generation, approximately 77 million births occurred.

Your claims of Gen X being sandwiched between too massive generations doesn't seem to hold water.

Posted by: Fact-Based | November 3, 2010 4:06 PM

I'm the mother of three Gen Xers, and I understand being caught between two generations. In my case, I was caught between the Greatest Generation and the Boomers.and it sucked. The one thing that my oldest son and I agree on is the the Boomer generation is the cause of most of our nation's problems -- they just can't die off soon enough! Unfortunately, I won't live long enough to see their demise!!!

Posted by: marmac5 | November 3, 2010 3:15 PM

As a boomer, I have some sympathy to the Gen-xers and Millenials working out there. Starting out sucks. Being early in your career sucks less, but not a lot. There's a lot of waiting, and a lot of older managerial types suffer from extreme recto-cranial inversion. No argument.

But I'm not retiring either. At 53, my graying butt is managing a virtual machine farm and moving applications to the cloud. I'm getting a droid with the sole purpose of writing some software on it that I can't seem to buy. No, I'm not going anywhere for a while yet.

Look, I hate to point out the obvious, but all the ambient wealth of buildings companies, roads, computers, internet and technologies that allow young people to float in the technosphere like untethered balloons was for the most part invented by, and often built by, baby-boomers.

So remind me again why you thought it was all for free?

Sorry guys. For my money, you owe. Big time. Suck it up and move on. In a few years, you'll all have bigger worries than baby boomers - you'll have your grandchildren, who with their wireless network connected contact lens viewscreens and direct neural I/O will think you charmingly quaint, if a bit slow.

Posted by: ian807 | November 3, 2010 2:40 PM

Absolutely saw the fallout first-hand in the early 90s when my Happy Days-generation dad got the corporate heave-ho.

Not sure I feel so down on the millenials though--sure, they do have a strong sense of entitlement ("everyone wins!" "no criticizing!") but I see a lot of brainy hard workers who also want to do good in the world. Could be my industry though.

And I feel sorry for people close to retirement who lost jobs and houses, and have little chance of recovering that ground.

We may be coming to it late, but I think that Gen-Xers will be the saviest generation since the Depression era folks.

Posted by: chunche | November 3, 2010 1:36 PM

Absolutely saw the fallout first-hand in the early 90s when my Happy Days-generation dad got the corporate heave-ho.

Not sure I feel so down on the millenials though--sure, they do have a strong sense of entitlement ("everyone wins!" "no criticizing!") but I see a lot of brainy hard workers who also want to do good in the world. Could be my industry though.

And I feel sorry for people close to retirement who lost jobs and houses, and have little chance of recovering that ground.

We may be coming to it late, but I think that Gen-Xers will be the saviest generation since the Depression era folks.

Posted by: chunche | November 3, 2010 1:34 PM

What's our whistle?

For one, Jon Stewart. And Colbert. The most poignant and most trusted commentators in news.

For two, Obama. The first post-Boomer president.

The Boomers view Obama through the lens of the 60s -- especially throwback conservatives. That's why they see him as a communist -- when post-boomers aren't concerned with (for or against) communism at all.

All that said, Gen X have always known this was coming -- that we would fund the Boomers' retirements and there would be nothing left (in Social Security, for example) for us.

Note the attempts now, by Boomer politicians (especially in California) to change the terms of public employees' retirements and benefits -- but not for those who are already in the system.

Talk about generational theft.

Posted by: chabot744 | November 3, 2010 12:30 PM

"[F]ew could have anticipated that scores of boomers would face the end of their careers without enough money to exit." Really? Haven't there been scores of news stories about that very possibility going back decades?

Posted by: jbindc | November 3, 2010 12:12 PM

I agree, as well. I'm actually shocked that 40% of the workforce is composed of Baby Boomers. I guess that's why Gen Xers can't find jobs.

As to Loyalty, of course Gen Xers are not loyal; we've seen it doesn't pay! Raises are capped so low, and have recently disappeared, and companies particularly now can low ball salaries for new hires that the only way to get the appropriate pay is leaving for another company.

As far as the Baby Boomers who say tough luck kid, I'm not leaving, I say thanks. For everything, seriously. You taught us well and now we're bitter and unemployed and will never, ever be able to retire. Particularly thanks to those wonderful student loans you encouraged us to get!

Gen X is lost. The Millenium kids will quickly overcome us as we cannot even get a foot in the door.

Posted by: hebe1 | November 3, 2010 11:51 AM

As a member of Generation X, I'll counter with a few observations about your points.
1. The effort to define a "retirement age" has led to the notion that retirement is a requirement (and/or an entitlement). People should fend for themselves (re investments & work opportunities) and quit expecting the government to provide. If I choose to work up to and on my deathbed, that shouldn't be an issue.
2. Re Latchkey managers - here is the need for compromise. Gen-X needs to recognize they probably need management training (which boomers can provide), and boomers need to recognize that they won't be around forever. (and millenials can learn from both) Additionally, boomers need to adapt and become more product focused and less "time-in-office" focused (i.e., I can sit in my office all day and do nothing, and my manager/supervisor counts that as a productive day)
3. See (1), everyone needs to look out for themselves and find their best fit. If that means trying out new companies, so be it - but, on average, you need to eventually pick one. If you're interviewing after being employed in more than 3 places in a year, don't expect that 4th company to jump at the chance of hiring you.
4. Trust - this is a 2-way street. A leader needs to be able to trust his followers, and followers should work to foster that trust (showing up on time - if that's required; actually producing something or at least contributing; building their professional resume, etc). This actually benefits work-life balance - if a manager / leader can trust you to get something done without seeing you all the time, you might actually work in some flexibility (first-hand experience).
5. Not sure where ALA gets its data / statistics, but as a Gen-Xer, I won't subscribe to any of their assertions ('they "don't read as much," "prefer fewer words" and look to "visual stimulation."') I, for one, read as much - if not more - than I ever have (whether on-line or in-print) and actually prefer to read rather than try to listen to some reader / commentator / newscaster / talking head drone on about minutiae.
Some might pitch their "indiscriminateness" as distinctly separating their professional life from their "real" (home) life. While I'm not sure it's entirely valid, it's at least a counterpoint.

Finally, your TR quote (on your website) is very relevant.
To move forward, let's have meaningful, civil conversations between generations and recognize who the new leaders / managers will be, and help them do the best they can.

Posted by: robjdisc | November 3, 2010 11:09 AM

If it kills a Gen-Xer who knows (or thinks he or she knows) a better way to get things done but to whom no attention is paid, imagine, if you will, how much it kills a boomer to be shoved aside for millennials, who may know technology but have no experience. I am retiring soon because I need a challenge and can't get it where I am after being passed over for promotions that people with 2-3 experience in my position are getting. Not every boomer is tech-averse. Not every boomer has "retired in place." I still have something to offer, and if my employer can't see that, then I am going to have to take my retirement and go elsewhere. Retiring on the job and just collecting a paycheck (which maybe some boomers are doing because their ability to contribute has been discounted by the younger generations) is just too painful.

Posted by: mG54 | November 3, 2010 10:28 AM

Please consider that Gen-X's issues may be the result of the crappy economy,that we are all waiting around for the next spur to economic growth, and that Gen-X is more than welcome to be creative and make something happen to make the economy grow and create a new workplace reality, rather than just wanting to push people out of the existing workplace who are still too young to retire and have also taken a big hit to their retirement portfolios. Please also remember that the baby boomers had to wait plenty long for the greatest generation to get out of the way as well, but that didn't stop them from making new things happen (witness Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, many others) to create more jobs for workers of all ages.
I'm afraid Gen-X is just too busy resenting the older people and now the Millenials, who are again transforming society and will probably end up creating the jobs that Gen-Xers are grateful for in their fifties and early sixties when yes, they will still need to work and may reconsider their exhortations to the baby boomers to move aside. Also, given that Bill Gates et al are baby boomers, quit assuming baby boomers are all uncomfortable with technology. They were responsible for a lot of it. And P.S. there are indifferent coasters of all ages all over the workplace, always have been.

Posted by: femetro | November 3, 2010 10:18 AM

I could not agree more with the metaphor and/or analogy of Gen X as the traffic cop. I appreciate this article very much, and the Washington Post for printing it.

I have been blogging about Generation X almost daily for nearly 2 1/2 years. I blog from Oklahoma - a state with a small population with comparatively fewer college-educated professionals. I say that to say this - my blog has captivated the attention of some of this city's most influential and well-educated Xers. Many are opinion leaders. I had a leg up as a PR spokesperson before I started, so it was relatively easy to get on the radar. I didn't plan it that way. I just blogged about what I was interested in and passionate about and the Gen X readership found me. Thus, there exists in Oklahoma (of all places, really) a greater awareness among Xers of all that has been outlined in this article.) I am grateful for the role that I play, and despite decent blog traffic, my voice is small, my blog (borrowing from Oklahoma's The Lost Ogle) still obscure. We need more articles like this in places like the Washington Post. Thank you. The readers will find you. I promise and the followers will be loyal. Cult-like. =)

All of the messages outlined in this article resonate with my fellow Okie Xers and me. The more we are able to "name" our challenges, the more we can adequately work to address them. Honestly, the workplace and career trajectory has been a painful one for Gen X. Now, it seems our humility would be natural, our focus on higher callings a well-worn groove.

I am speaking to a Gen Y and Gen X dominated Rotary Club in OKC later this month and will point to this article and also borrow the traffic cop metaphor. In creating this presentation, I was already full of conviction that this is the sacrificial role Gen X must play if we really want to change the world.

Thanks, again. jenx67.com

Posted by: jenx67 | November 3, 2010 10:06 AM


The best advice is not to listen to people like you. You're basically saying you're holding on because you're a failure. Awesome.

The only people keeping the boomers around are other sympathetic boomers in management. That is eroding pretty quickly. In government, the Obama appointees have been outright antagonistic to the old fogey status quo. It's been fun to watch quite a few Agencies purge their obsolete GS15 and SES. I hope you folks have a backup plan better than relying on AARP to lobby for an even more govt. benefits you people do not deserve.

Posted by: Wallenstein | November 3, 2010 9:41 AM


None of us Gen-Xers think you can't get it done. It's just that you get it done the same way you've been getting it done for the past 40 years. I work for a monstrous corporation and all the baby boomers are sticking around. It kills me everyday as I know of so many way to improve processes and make things more efficient. But, we still do things the old way. When I ask why, it's because that's how it's done. God forbid I suggest something like using a google doc to track progress on projects. I've never seen so many confused faces, not to mention most were very much against signing up for gmail. (Who doesn't have a gmail account, honestly?)

I respect the experience of the older generation in the work place, but for god's sake open your mind to technology and let us do what we do because I guarantee we can do everything you can do just faster.

Posted by: rderr27 | November 3, 2010 9:37 AM

As a mid-50's Boomer I can tell you poor Gen-Xers that I have no plans to get out of the way time soon. Retirement is an abstract concept for me. My 401(k) plan has tanked with the stock market. I have no access to a retirement pension, and I don't plan to spend my retirement years in a half-way house. I feel much uncertainty. Plus all the talk of vast Social Security and Medicare cut backs adds further anxiety. My hope is my health will hold until my mid-70's and then I can retire.

Your best hope is for rapid technology turnover in the workplace that will force old fogies like me to hang it up. The longer we stick with old industries like Big Oil, that require simply pushing buttons, the better for me. If you were smart you would be revolutionizing the energy industry at break neck speed to create new technologies that only you guys can figure out how to do. You youngsters can learn mush faster than me, but with jobs that don't need any tech change we oldies are still the best at it. Experience pays off. After 40 years I know how to do it by gawd.

Posted by: citizen4truth1 | November 3, 2010 8:44 AM

The Gen Xers will definitely be facing ten more years of anguish. These boomers have no plans to retire. Some of them just won't retire no matter how much money they have, some squandered their money and have no retirement and others are just plain scared. The author is 100% correct - loyalty is a two way street and Gen Xers have smartened up to the point where they don't give it freely.

Posted by: GenXer1 | November 3, 2010 7:45 AM

I agree with most of what you're saying, but shame on you for failing to get the world's richest author's name right who is also a Gen Xer: it's J.K. Rowling, NOT J.K. Rawlings.

Posted by: redconky | November 3, 2010 5:11 AM

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