According to a new study by three Canadian Universities, Generation X, which made moody and tragic Kurt Cobain an icon, is still in a bad mood. Yes, friends, Gen Xers are angry and grumpy; however, last week, a much longer, 25-year study by a Michigan professor found that Gen Xers were “happy and balanced.”
Still, the new report urges employers to engage Gen Xers who, compared to all other age groups, are most disappointed with how their careers have unfolded thus far.
This is just one of the findings of the study, which focuses on how four different generations view their work lives. The report, conducted by academics at the University of Guelph in southern Ontario, Carleton University in Ottawa and Dalhousie University in Halifax, looked at differences between “matures” born in 1945 or earlier, baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, Generation Xers born from 1965 to 1979 (I have always used Strauss and Howe’s broadest definition, which is 1961 to 1981) and Generation Y born in 1980 or later. (Again, I use Strauss and Howe’s definition of 1982 to 1996.)
“As the mass retirement of boomers nears, Generation X employees will become even more critical to the success of organizations,” the study says. “Unfortunately, these employees reported the lowest levels of satisfaction and met expectations, as well as the highest levels of conflict between work and family life.”
The study, which included more than 3,000 Canadian subjects, showed that Generation Xers’ expectations are not being met with regard to aspects such as pay, career advancement, and training and development.
Yet, the study points out this is a group of workers that will be looked upon to bridge the gap between the established practices and conventions of retiring boomers and up-and-coming millennials.
“Having grown up and started their careers in the baby-boomer workplace, Gen Xers understand the legacy of the boomer generation,” the study says. “Having been young enough to have seen the technological revolution unfold as teens and young adults, they also understand the power of the digital world.
“Gen Xers are the key link that integrates the past and the future.”
However, the study also says there is “no quick and easy solution to engaging and retaining Gen Xers.”
The study suggests that those running today’s workplaces take note of what Gen Xers look for in a job. For example, more than any other generation, they focus on achieving a work-life balance. They are the ones most adamant about wanting flexibility and control over their work hours.
Sean Lyons, a business professor at the University of Guelph and lead author on the study, said Gen Xers also are caught between boomers and millennials, both of which are more culturally influential.
Some advantages millennials have had over Gen Xers, Lyons said, is that they’re the children of the affluent and influential boomer generation. Despite any difficulties they might be having now, millennials stand to rise through the employment ranks more quickly than Gen Xers ever did as boomer retirements accelerate and create labour shortages, he added.
Gen Xers Are Angry and Grumpy
The perception among Gen Xers that they’ve had it tougher than those who came before and after them could be part of what makes them a grumpy generation, Lyons said.
The popular culture of the time they grew up in – featuring music from Cobain’s band Nirvana, books such as Douglas Coupland’s Generation X and movies such as Reality Bites – might be both reflective of and have helped create a generation that just isn’t as optimistic about life as other generations, he added.
Compared to other age groups, the study found Generation Xers less preoccupied with advancement and recognition.
“They appear to be willing to forego status for increased control over hours and balance between their work and personal lives,” the study says.
Among the distinctive characteristics of other generations, millennials were more prone than others to rate fun, social interaction, advancement and prestige among the things they want in a job.
Boomers, despite being in the twilights of their careers, were still found to be focused on opportunities for achievement and being challenged.
Matures, most of whom were retired, said leaving a lasting impact on the organizations they worked for was big deal for them.
Why do you think Gen Xers Are Angry?