Generation X (born mid-l960s – late-1970s)
This generation is also known by Americans as the Thirteenth Generation, since it is the 13th generation of the USA since 1620. Canadian author Douglas Coupland either (it depends upon who you ask) stole the name of Billy Idol’s old punk band or saw it in an obscure sociology text for his 1991 book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. This is a fictional book about three strangers who decide to distance themselves from society to get a better sense of who they are. He describes the characters as “underemployed, overeducated, intensely private and unpredictable.” Coupland insists he took his book’s title from another book Class, by Paul Fussell. Fussell used “X” to describe a group of people who want to pull away from class, status and money in society. Because the characters in Coupland’s book fit that description, he decided on the title Generation X.
What GenXers enjoy most is friendship, music, their sound systems, computers and television while school, work, youth groups, and religious group involvement rank very low. Those on the top of the scale represent areas of freedom, choice and independence, while those below are structured and normally run by Boomers.
The phrase GenX was picked up by marketers desperately seeking a name for the “generation without a name.” Of course, there’s been much wrangling about this term, and many others have been offered, not all of them complimentary.
Generation X is the most immigrant generation born in the twentieth century. In a few years’ time, as Xers move through midlife to elderhood, they will be the pragmatic workers that get the job done, at the same time helping the aging Boomers to “get real” without losing themselves in apocalyptic visions. Generation X will be cunning and deft in business and elsewhere, quick to seize opportunities and adapt to changing environments. And they will be nice to be around.
SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF GenX AT WORK
- Work-life balance
- Free agents – employability
- Fun at work; relationships are critical
- Pragmatic, skeptical & informal
- Information driven
- Music is huge; language of expression
- Crave performance feedback
- Empowered & independent
- “Grow in place” career strategy
- Embrace change; highly creative
- Impatient with meetings & process; get in, do it, move on to the next project
- Rebel against micro-management
- Job changes are necessary & normal
- Cynical; distrustful of institutions
SOME MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT GenX
Media Myth: Materialistic.
Reality: First generation that can expect to earn less (in real terms) than their parents. They want out of debt, so money is important; however material wealth and status are scorned.
Media Myth: Whiners.
Reality: Gen Xers face huge challenges – school loans, skyrocketing real estate costs, environmental disasters, unprecedented healthcare issues, pandemics – yet most are philosophical about the problems they’re inheriting.
Media Myth: “You owe me” attitude.
Reality: Freedom and flexibility are their ultimate rewards. Their goal is to build a portable career. Institutions are suspect.
Media Myth: Unwilling to work hard.
Reality: GenX believes it’s unfair to expect a 70-hour week for 40 hours of pay. They are committed to having a life beyond work. Work is a transactional arrangement – not a cause or calling.
Media Myth: Living on “easy street.”
Reality: In the 1950s, young homeowners could make the monthly mortgage payment by using 14 % of their income. Today it takes 40%. GenXers worry they won’t have enough money to pay for a home and their children’s education
SOME RESULTS OF COLLISIONS BETWEEN GenX AND OTHER GENERATIONAL GROUPS
when a Senior (mid 1920s to mid-1940s) collides, they think…
- Don’t respect experience.
- That noise is not music!
- Don’t know what hard work is.
when a Baby Boomer (mid l940s to mid 1960s) collides, they think…
- Rude – no social skills.
- Always doing things their own way, instead of following procedures
when a GenX (mid-1060s to late 1970s) collides, they think…
- Don’t worry – Be happy!
- Like, w-a-y too intense.
- Information overload.
At no time in our history have so many and such different generations with such diversity been asked to work shoulder to shoulder, side by side, cubicle by cubicle. The once-linear nature of power at work, from older to younger, has been disrupted by changes in life expectancy and health, as well as changes in lifestyle and technology.
We are all individuals. There are countless ways we differ in background, personality, values, preferences, and style. To make judgments about these differences (i.e., who is better), is illogical and meaningless. However, exploring generational diversity can help explain – and bridge – the sometimes-baffling differences behind our unspoken assumptions and at-odds attitudes.
Caution: Be careful to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes. Generational differences are a start, not an end to understanding.