We’re always talking about the impact of younger generations on the workplace, but rarely with kindness or approval. We mix up Generations Y and Z and try to ignore the imminent arrival of Generation Alpha.
We see little of value in the new attitudes they bring to the workplace. We call them selfish and fickle. Human Resources departments struggle to retain them. Long serving managers resent the way they question the way things are done. And everyone rolls their eyes when they tell us they intend to reach the C-Suite within 5 years.
But maybe it’s time to turn the telescope around and look at the generation that is causing bigger issues in modern organizational culture. I’m prepared for your sharp intake of breath, so here goes!
The generation born between 1965 and 1979 are known as Generation X. Currently they number 53 million and occupy most senior management and leadership positions in the global workforce. They tend to be loyal and long served, and the best of them have put decades of effort into the companies that employ them.
As managers they have learned how to manage processes, keep within norms, set tasks and follow up actions. They have been prepared to exercise discipline on subordinates and have kept themselves visible to their bosses. Now, as they reach career maturity, they often look back on the way things were and regret the speed of change. They demand traditions be respected: the company Christmas party, the annual teambuilding weekend, the long service awards and the record of marriages and births in the company newsletter.
This generation has always lacked the idealism of their predecessors, the Boomers. They believed that, together, they could change the world and many of them did. By contrast Gen X are more individualistic, competitive and materialistic. They were not exposed to technology in childhood. Fewer of them have risen to leadership. Instead, they have climbed the managerial ladder to a place of comfort and consolidated their positions. In military analogy they have reached their objectives and dug in.
In modern business, Generation X is losing its value. The world continues to turn somersaults, and the last thing companies need are people who try to prevent further rocking of the boat. Instead, we must seek out flexibility, innovation and pursue business reinvention.
In culture transformation we call Generation X the ‘sticky middle’ and, in truth, they are blocking the potential of succeeding generations to contribute to business. As a business leader, look around the room at your next review. The ‘sticky middle’ defends departmental positions and blames non- performance on external factors. They suppress potential successors. They will be there when your company closes down.