What’s a Gen Xer to do?

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Gen Xers and Rewarding Careers

In a conversation with a friend recently, we talked about the challenges that Gen Xers face as they reach their ‘mid career’ point.  Depending on one’s career path, the experiences can vary widely from a rapid succession up the career latter, to multiple lateral moves, to having moved from organization to organization due to restructuring.  As a cohort, often Gen Xers are frustrated by their current career reality and seek to find alternative solutions to create a rewarding and successful career as defined by themselves.

Engaging Gen X Employees

We counsel many of our clients to avoid putting too much effort into retaining and engaging just Gen Ys if it may disengage other long standing employees.  Many Gen Xers  in our sessions complain about their frustration at being sandwiched between aging Baby Boomers who aren’t retiring quickly enough to create opportunities for promotions and Gen Ys who they believe are being dotted on by senior leaders and receive greater support for learning, development and career advancement.  By nature, Gen Xers are independent. This cohort expects to take care of themselves and is skeptical of managerial or organizational motives. This translates into a generation of self-starters, who are constantly seeking opportunities to gain marketable skills and results they can put on their resume.

Many Gen Xers expect that they will be laid off at some point in their career.  There is little stigma associated with being downsized.  In a world where businesses need to adjust strategies and change direction quickly, Gen Xers have learned to not trust that their current reality will last for the long term.  So what is a Gen Xer to do if they have plateaued in their career?  What can they do to better manage their own progression?

For a number of reasons, many Gen Xers have faced barriers in moving up the corporate latter some of which include:

  • Flat organizational structures with little room for advancement
  • Lack of internal opportunities due to delayed retirement
  • Budget constraints and wage freezes
  • Mergers and acquisitions that result in layoffs
  • Not filling vacant roles to reduce costs
  • Limited investment in learning and development
  • Workplace environments that don’t support career development
  • Lack of desire to adopt a ‘live to work’ mentality in order to be promoted

As a result of not being able to progress in their careers as they desire, often Gen Xers will take the following actions:

  • Start their own businesses
  • Disengage at work
  • Leave their organization
  • Change careers altogether
  • Go back to school to learn a new skills / areas of focus
  • Focus on a great quality of life by assuming a ‘work to live’ mentality
  • Take on part-time work, perhaps in another industry
  • Accept a position that is a lateral move in a different organization to increase their breadth of experience
  • Abandon their career goals

In order to feel empowered and maintain a sense of independence, it’s important for Gen Xers who feel that they haven’t been able to achieve what they wanted to in their careers, to focus on four key things:

  1. Identifying your strengthes and who can most benefit from them – internally & externally
  2. Taking ownership for your own learning and development
  3. Seeking out a mentor to act as a sounding board
  4. Thinking creatively about how to partner with different types of organizations / people / associations to gain your desired skills

I am often told by others, who are older and wiser, that I should be more ‘patient’.  As a Gen Xer and entrepreneur I have always found that difficult to swallow. But there is some truth in staying the course, focusing on developing new skills and preparing ourselves for when it’s “our time”.  Many Gen Xers might find that their career goals are simply delayed a few years and that the road to achieving success is windy and has more hills to climb than we anticipated.

It might be a longer route, but in the end we will likely enjoy the journey so much more than an easy, straight ride. As Baby Boomers exit the workforce, Gen Xers are the future leaders. Already organizations are changing, with more and more Gen Xers in C-suite positions. As businesses evolve, the opportunities to work more cross functionally, globally and independently will provide employees with new experiences. Gen Xers are well primed to strike when an opportunity presents itself. A successful career will no longer be defined by just tenure, title and salary but will be based on resilience, creativity, innovation, results and maybe some patience.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies across North America. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. With close to 20 years of experience in learning and development, she has devoted more than 13 years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance.

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