When I tell my brother, a fellow Gen X’er, that I’m concerned about Millennial’s taking over the workplace, he laughs. He insists that he doesn’t feel intimidated by a generation who fails to show up for work on time while putting in the least amount of effort.
Whether or not he has a point, I am concerned. Not because I am threatened, but because I am envious. I’m jealous of the wealth of resources at this generation’s fingertips and their undeniable conviction that they will succeed.
The workplace wasn’t a kind environment when I started out. When I lost my first job in 1994, my manager smoked a cigarette and blew smoke in my face as she tactlessly informed me it wasn’t working out. Finding subsequent jobs was tough as I didn’t have the luxury of LinkedIn connections, Craigslist, or online job boards. Instead I hand delivered resumes door to door hoping someone may be hiring. They often weren’t.
I also lacked, and still lack, the optimism and empowerment of Millennials. When I was growing up I was never handed a ribbon for participation, nor was I led to believe I could be anything I wanted to be.
Instead I was taught the importance of work ethic, modesty, and respect for my superiors. And while I am thankful for my generation’s learnings, I have to wonder where they fit into the current workplace paradigm.
Perception or not, it feels like Gen X’ers have the odds against them. Here are some of the reasons why:
There aren’t a lot of us. There are more than 80 million Millennials in the United States. That’s 25% of the entire U.S. population. No wonder everyone is fighting to engage this group. Every time I go online I am met with yet more articles on how to attract and retain Millennials. Conversely, there seems very little written about us Gen X’ers. In more ways than one, we are the Jan Brady of generations.
We’re tech laggards. When I entered the workforce I knew nothing about technology. I was 100% dependent on an IT department, who on more than one occasion had to actually ask if my computer was plugged in. Yes, I have come a long way, but it hasn’t been easy. For us, and baby boomers, keeping pace with a tech reliant workplace can be overwhelming. I’ve been fortunate to work in sectors that keep me informed with the latest tech trends, but I still have a lot of friends who still don’t know what Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat are.
Work isn’t our first priority. We work to live, we don’t live to work, and we are WAY more involved in our kid’s lives than our parents were in ours. This means we don’t think twice about leaving work early to pick up the kids from school or soccer practice. We are also hesitant to take any time away from our family for things like industry meet-ups and weekend team building events.
We can’t afford job instability: Because we no longer live at home with mom and dad, and we most likely have our own children to support, we can’t afford to be out of work. Yet a lot of us are. We have the worst unemployment rate, lowest credit scores, and are saving the least for retirement. This inevitably leaves us settling for security, rather than chasing our dreams. And this makes me the most jealous.
We are still recovering. No generation was hit harder than Gen X during the last recession. We lost 45% of our overall net worth–the most of any generation. Not that boomers didn’t take a hit too, but they were able to pull on decade’s worth of savings. Also, according to a 2013 Urban Policy Institute report, nearly 50% of student loan debt is actually attributed to borrowers age 30 to 49, not the 20-somethings I would have envisioned.
So yes, I do have concerns. It’s hard to stand out in a generation sandwiched between the brilliant boomers and the magnificent Millennials. But I am also confident that we are stronger and more self sufficient than any generation that follows us. And really, if we can survive AIDS, the Cold War, and 80’s hair bands, we can overcome anything