4 Ways Generation X Can Win In The Future Workplace


Get a free pdf of this article which also contains the fifth way generation X can win in the future workplace!

My fellow Generation X homeboys (and girls) please take note:

By 2020 expect 1 out of every 2 people in your office will be younger than you.

Let that statement settle into your subconscious while I take a quick detour.

I came across this article from humanresourcesonline.net a few weeks back. The headline caught my attention, “34% of Gen Z Feel They Lack The Confidence to Lead.”

While the headline was written like it should be attention grabbing, it actually lead me to a sarcastic “duuuuuhhhhhh” conclusion. A better headline would be “66% of Gen Z Feel Confident They Can Lead.” This isn’t actually what the survey data implies, but you have to agree that a statement like that would be an eye opener.

Gen Z is the generation just behind the massive Millennial generation. For many of us Generation Xers, the Gen Zers are our kids. While nobody can seem to agree on exactly when any generation starts or stops, the general consensus is that Gen Z started with births in 1995 and later. That makes member of Gen Z, at most, 22 years old. Most of them are younger than 22.

See what I mean about my response to the article headline?

To be sure, my response is not a dig on Gen Z in the slightest. They will be just as good, if not much better, at the art and craft of leadership. It will take some time, though. They haven’t been in the game long enough to sharpen their skills. Their confidence will come with experience.

The article, with the headline that sparked my child-like response, was based on a report that Universum put out called “Building Leaders For The Next Decade.” I clicked over to Universum’s site to read the report for myself.

Universum is a company that helps employers build their brands. Their mission is to help your company attract the best talent. This report is based off a ranging survey with “responses from 18,337 individuals in 19 countries with statistically relevant sample sizes.”

Universum surveyed Generation Z (age: baby-22), Generation Y students (younger) and professionals (older) – Generation Y are also known as the Millennials (age: 17-37), and Generation X professionals (age 38-52).

The data they compiled from these surveys looked legit to me.

The data also created another eye-opening moment.

Here’s a question from their survey:

“How important is it that you become a leader during your career?”

Both the Millennials (65%) and the Gen Zers (63%) said it was either “very important” or “important.” For Generation X, only 57% thought the same.

And why, Mr. or Ms. Generation X professional, do you think this way?

From the report, “What are the main reasons you consider a leadership role unattractive?”

Over a third of Generation Xers said that we wouldn’t be able to have work-life balance.

Over half of Generation Xers said that leadership roles are unattractive because they have high levels of stress.

To be fair, if you read Universum’s report you will see that the percentage of Generation X worried about work-life balance and stress were similar to the percentage of Millennials also worried about those two things.

Many of us seem to be worried about how much stress leadership roles will create in our lives, and many of us seem to be worried that being a leader may create an imbalance in our overall life.

Worry not!

These attitudes, I think, are reflecting the current work environment. The current work environment though is dying a fast death.

Consider the following…

First, The demographic of the modern workplace is, right now, undergoing a massive transformation.

Remember when I mentioned that in 2020, 1 out of every 2 people in your office will be younger than you. Every day 10,000 members of the older Baby Boomer generation reach retirement age. This trend – 10,000 members per day reaching age 65 – will continue until about 2030. On the other end of the spectrum, about 10,000 Millennials are joining the workforce everyday. This trend will also continue until about 2030.

The Generation X professional – already fully represented in the workplace due to our goldilocks age range – has a front row seat to a massive change. Essentially, we are in the middle watching the Baby Boomers leave and the Millennials and Gen Zers enter.

Second, the structures, organization, methods, means, and culture of the modern workplace will continue its massive transformation as a natural result of this demographic change.

The current workplace with all of its customs, rules, hierarchies, and culture has been formed, shaped, tweaked, and solidified in large part by the older Baby Boomer generation. This is a massive group of people (about 80 million) who in the generation ahead of Generation X. They grew up together, entered the workforce together, and influenced how the workplace functioned together. There is strength in numbers and the strength of their influence on the workplace was the result of their numbers.

Now, as the Baby Boomer generation rapidly exits the scene, so too does their enduring influence on the workplace. Each day, with each new retirement, their influence ebbs.

Influence in general is not going away. The influence is now just being transferred to a different group. The Millennials, an even larger generation than the Boomers, are quickly entering the workplace. More and more each day for years to come. This group, like the Baby Boomers before them, will also significantly influence the workplace as their representation in the workplace begins to swell.

What does all of this mean for the Generation X professional who is caught in the middle of this epic sea change?

There are a few things for you to consider as you proceed along the path:

  1. Understand the workplace is ripe for change. Generation X has been a part of the Baby-Boomer-created work environment for enough time to think that “this is the way it is.” In reality, the way it is right now is mostly just a construct of the Baby Boomer generation. Like a Baby Boomer created Matrix. The rules, customs, traditions, hierarchies, and other elements of the modern workplace will have no choice but to change as generational representation changes.
  2. You will be asked to lead. Because we are a bit further along on the life and experience timeline than the Millennials, expect more opportunities for recruitment into senior leadership positions. As the Boomers retire out, Generation Xers are next in line for those senior roles. More opportunities will be coming in the years ahead.
  3. Be willing to think differently about leadership. Generation X leadership does not have to be deployed in the same way the Baby Boomers did it. We have a chance to do things in a radically different way. The reason is because we will have fresh blood coming into our organizations for years to come. Remember, influence will shift away from the Boomers and toward the Millennials. We are in a unique position to help steer that influence over the next several years.
  4. Break the rules. Rules are for old people. Over the next several years we have the chance to reset how work gets done. We have the chance to change workplace culture in a way that makes the art of leadership less stressful and more fitting with our lives outside of work. All of this will require the courage to break the established rules and reset the way business get done. The Boomers wouldn’t “allow” this to happen. Well, their time is coming to a close. Thanks for the effort, Boomers, now it’s time for something different.

What we are worried about – high stress and work-life balance problems – can be mitigated by changing the cultures and customs of the organizations we are a part of.

That work, however, is a function of leadership. You must be willing to step up to make the change you want to see.

We are in a unique period of time where changing organizational cultures and customs is realistically possible because of the changing demographic. We just need to get our hands dirty and rethink how work gets done from the ground up.

Sure, there will always be points of high stress and work-life balance problems in every career. It’s not completely unavoidable. But we are in a unique position to shape the overarching culture so that doesn’t remain the norm.

It is possible.

Get a free pdf of this article which also contains the fifth way generation X can win in the future workplace!

by Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan is the Head Coach at Sandcastle Company, a Seattle-based leadership training organization. His first book, Future Leader: Rebooting Leadership to Win the Millennial and Tech Future [link], is now available. Jonathan regularly writes and speaks about The New Leader Way, leadership resilience, and the future of work. He has years of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, a master's degree from Seattle University, and professional coach training from the University of Miami.
Published on May 1, 2017

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