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Gen X on a Multigenerational Team
By Cindy Roche, MA, CPHR
I am Gen X. When I read descriptions of Gen X – when I find them – I fit the typical characteristics you can find in any one of dozens of articles. Gen X is the smallest demographic in North America and one of the characteristics of our generation is that we aren’t too concerned about that fact. When we entered the workforce, we were a minority compared to Baby Boomers; then, just as the Boomers started to retire, Millennials arrived on the scene.
Over the past 10 – 15 years, we’ve been hearing about and developing strategies to attract and retain the great number of Millennials, also known as Gen Y, entering the workforce. There are even greater numbers of iGen or Gen Z individuals coming behind them. Both cohorts exceed the number of Baby Boomers who held the record for the largest demographic in North America for 40 years. Gen X remains a smaller group than Boomers.
The split between younger and older individuals in the workforce is at or near 50%, and in a few short years, younger people will comprise 75%. The demographic distribution in the workplace will continue to shift exponentially as Gen Z enters the workforce over the next 10-15 years. The youngest Boomers still have about 10 years before they retire and Gen X will be contributing in the workplace for another 15 or 20 years.
The overlap of generations in the workplace has brought a mass of studies and initiatives that seek to explain the differences in experience and perspectives of each generation to prepare teams to work effectively together. There was training for managers to learn how to manage Millennials and now there are courses for Millennial Managers managing people who may be significantly older than they are. To be fair a lot of the focus has gone into managing people who are different, potentially far younger or older, who bring different experience, different sets of ideas and different ways of doing business.
As Gen X I ask, have the recommendations been any different than what leaders otherwise need to know to manage a team effectively? Is the training much different than the messaging in diversity and inclusion courses? Is there really that much difference between these other generations? I’m not sure there is, or at least I’m not sure that if there is a difference that it’s relevant anymore.
The biggest difference between Boomers and Millennials was in the realm of technology usage, but the Boomers who couldn’t use a computer have largely removed themselves by retiring, and organizational culture has shifted as companies adapted to Millennials. As Gen X, I suggest that there have been some phenomenal changes in the workplace over the past 10 years.
Millennials didn’t invent collaborative culture, but they do expect this culture and it has positively influenced the expectations that Boomers and Gen X brought to work too. The oldest Millennials are now in their early 30s and are taking leadership positions – the tendency of the business world to use more technology, to frame work around projects and to care about work/life balance is very much related to the presence of Millennials we’ve had working alongside us.
Here are some characteristics of these generations in the workplace over the years:
- With their awareness of diversity and willingness towards inclusivity, their desire to learn and move forward, and their technical fluency, Millennials are prepared to collaborate.
- As Gen X, I say we say, “Let’s go.” We’re prepared to work independently and like our autonomy but we know the work is lighter with more heads and hands.
- Boomers who are still working know that collaboration works too. They get what it means for keeping up, what it adds to the quality and effectiveness of the final product, and ultimately what it means for knowledge transfer in the organization.
As a Gen X referred to in several articles as the awkward “middle child” of the demographic landscape, I struggle with the focus on the generation before and the ones fast catching up to me. If I were one of the cynical Gen X, I would say that we’ve been worrying too much about these younger generations – they are way more adaptable than the generations before them, with greater confidence and less inhibition. Besides, none of us was around to know what it was like when the Baby Boomers were entering the workforce and maybe these Millennials and Gen Z are kind of like they were – taking care of themselves in a fast changing world and doing their best to make it meaningful. In short, working together shouldn’t be a problem.
As a Gen X, I think organizations have done well to accommodate changing demographics and that teams are increasingly positioned to collaboratively achieve business objectives by using the best of each generation’s strengths. I don’t mean that we don’t need to think about recruiting fantastic young talent or how we’ll keep them. Nor do I mean that we can stop developing our people and give them opportunities to grow so they’ll stick around. What I mean is, we’ve got more in common than not and it’s working. It’s working!
Each group within the multigenerational workplace cares about doing our work well – we just might approach it a little differently and have different ideas about where we can do our work. When given a sense of purpose, people are driven and collaborating drives us to deliver results for shared success (none of us wants to let anybody down). We are willing to learn and we’re willing to work hard.
No matter what generation we belong to, collaboration allows a chance to reflect and to think about the ways in which we’d like to grow. Collaboration challenges us to be more effective, communicate better and work together in ways that overcome any differences we might have.
There’s so much we can do together!