The “Semi-Retired” Gen Xer

Image: The “Semi-Retired” Gen Xer

Those who Struggle to Find Work after being Laid Off

Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, have been in the workforce for several decades. As the oldest members of this cohort are now in their early 50s, they have been working for many years and many have moved into higher ranking positions or management roles at their organizations. However, once being laid off, many from this generation find it difficult to find full-time work at a similar level (and with a similar salary). This has resulted in a “semi-retired Gen Xer.”

Gen Xers tend to be very individualistic and focused on results. They have traditionally been unimpressed with authority and are incredibly self-reliant. This has generally given them success in the work world.

However, Gen Xers have also experienced being “ignored” by leaders and overlooked in organizational strategies and programs, due to the two much larger generations that sandwich them: Baby Boomers and Millennials. This position is what has contributed to their independent nature, but it is also what makes it difficult for them if/when they are laid off. In fact, most Gen Xers assume that at some point in their career they will be downsized. In many cases they have prepared themselves for this eventuality mentally, financially and emotionally.

Most Gen Xers are not old enough to completely retire immediately after experiencing a laid off, but they can also be considered “not young enough” to start a new role at a new organization. Some organizations prefer to hire younger employees who, typically, command lower salaries, are seen as more “tech friendly” and are hired to “grow into” their roles.

This situation means that, while in many regions the economy is improving, it remains tough for Gen Xers to find new full-time jobs after losing prime positions. Many are deemed “overqualified” for desirable positions. It is also a challenge for this generation to easily transition into a new industry, sector or role. As many Gen Xers have reached their mid-career point, moving into a new field is difficult because it often requires either going back to school to learn a new skills set and/or taking a lower paying, entry level job in order to build experience. Financial and family responsibilities can make the time commitment to upgrade one’s skills challenging and difficult to manage on a reduced income.

Gen Xers and Work

Typically, employees in their 50s and 60s spend significant time and resources preparing for retirement. If they own a home, there is a good chance that their mortgage is paid off or close to being paid off. This gives them the ability to focus their finances on retirement savings. If they have children, their children may be about to enter the workforce (or are already in the workforce) and thus they are less likely to need financial support.

However, as Gen Xers enter their 50s, this is not always the case. Today’s 50-year-olds may have been hindered financially by the housing crisis. They may also find themselves providing their children with additional financial assistance due to student debt, youth unemployment and children living at home longer.

Traditionally, age 55 was seen by many to be the peak of a person’s earning years. However, if a Gen Xer is laid off around this age, they could find themselves lacking stable, permanent employment during this earning period. This can hurt their chances at being able to retire at 65. While Millennials may also have financial and employment struggles, they are young enough to be able to “catch up” from these setbacks. On the other hand, Baby Boomers also faced struggles in recent years, but many members of this cohort benefited from several years of prosperity prior to the recession, thus having accumulated a larger amount of overall savings.

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts in the United States found that, on average, Gen Xers lost about 45 percent of their overall net worth during the Great Recession. This is larger than any other generation.

Gen Xers do not have as much time to recoup money lost during the Great Recession as Millennials, but they also have not had as much time as Baby Boomers to build up savings in the first place. This puts them in a difficult position, especially because finding full-time work when they are in mid-career can be difficult.

Finding Work After Being Laid Off

In 2014, Statistics Canada released data showing that 62.9% of men who left full-time jobs between ages 55-59 found other employment, while 57.2% of women in the same age range found new jobs. However, the likelihood of finding a job greatly diminished after the first year of joblessness. The Stats Canada numbers also show that people in this age range earned much less in their new jobs than they had in the past. While Gen Xers are not quite 55 yet, this reality remains true for them as well.

For many Gen Xers, finding full-time employment in the traditional sense is not possible at this point in their lives. While many may think of Millennials when they think of short-term contract work, freelance projects and entrepreneurship, the reality is that Gen Xers are frequently turning to these type of work arrangements in order to earn a living.

Generation X is known for its individuality and self-reliance. Therefore, it almost seems natural that members of this cohort would turn to entrepreneurship when faced with financial struggles. While those who have been laid off may not be working full-time, they are still working. This places them in a unique position between employment and retirement.

While Gen Xers are resilient and many can make it work financially, there are still financial realities to deal with. Freelance work, contract work and entrepreneurship do not provide the steady paycheques (and steady retirement benefits) that full-time work does. For this reason, Gen Xers may need to budget their spending more tightly, plan on working longer than 65, or both.

The future for this generation is one of extremes – some have reached very high levels of success and can comfortably retire in their mid 60’s. For others, who have had to deal with being laid off (sometimes more than once), those were negatively impacted by the recession, and who may have started their families much later in life – Stats Canada has reported that the over 40 year old categories of first time mothers has increased – they will need to use their creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit to achieve their goals. 

As a Gen Xer, I remember the impact of the recession in the 80s, the angst of graduating in the 90s when there were no jobs and the tech boom and bust… we are a resilient generation who can plough though tough times and weather the storm. It will be interesting to see how Gen Xers adapt and adjust to this new reality and what creative solutions they create.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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