In all the discussions about generational differences in the workplace, my generation — Generation X — isn't coming off so well. Considered sluggish, stubborn and skeptical, Gen Xers haven't impressed the baby boomers, the Millennials or the researchers and consultants who advise adopting nothing less than revolutionary strategies to manage us. Which doesn't sound like a compliment.
Although I haven't been authorized to speak on behalf of my generation, I think offering a quick look at the motives behind our behavior may help to clear a few things up.
Gen X doesn't want to put in the hours. Actually, Gen Xers embrace hard work, but not "face time." We know when a meeting or conference call adds time, rather than value, to a project. When the work is done well, we're ready to go.
Gen X isn't ready to lead. Frankly, Gen Xers haven't had many opportunities to do so. The recession kept baby boomers in their jobs longer than anticipated, which has left several layers of professionals clinging to rather than climbing the corporate ladder. No one should retire before they are ready, but we're ready to get off the bench.
Gen X is disloyal and likes to job-hop. "Reasonably loyal" is more accurate. Many of our parents and grandparents lost career-length jobs to offshoring, executive misconduct or consolidation. Gen Xers don't expect to be lifers anywhere because those kinds of companies don't exist anymore. And when we see no room for advancement, we'll look for opportunities elsewhere.
We can't avoid generalities when talking about generations, but we don't have to attach judgments. Like our older and younger colleagues, Gen Xers' motivations have been shaped by the formative events of our era — real, meaningful, even inexplicable milestones. When we take time to explain them to each other, we'll all work better together.