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If you were born between 1965 and 1980, you’re a Generation Xer. Now is your time, as you’re about to take over the world of business. Though it may just be a small takeover.
Xers are America’s neglected middle child, and Pew Research Center takes it a step further by calling them “a low-slung, straight-line bridge between two noisy behemoths,” referring to both millennials and baby boomers.
According to Pew, this time period belongs to Gen X, and not the young millennials you see in most TV commercials, though most advertisers would likely disagree. With the boomers on the road to retirement, and the millennials still a bit raw, that leaves the Xers to take up leadership roles in the business world and do some heavy lifting.
There are some questions, though: How will they create change, if any, in this world? Why are they crucial to the future success of business? And what exactly are the advantages and skills they bring to the table, beyond being able to navigate around the Dewey decimal system?
Traits That Could Affect Business
With the baby boomer and Generation X groups getting older each day, the country is facing the reality that by 2025, one-quarter of the workforce will be over 55.
Klein Hall refers to Xers as “less distinct” and adds that there’s little special about them. However, they do acknowledge their inevitable transition into leadership roles and provide some valuable tips for preparing your business for Gen X.
Mentioned among those tips is Gen X’s middle-of-the-road views on using technology. They don’t completely shun it like a few boomers are prone to do, but they also enjoy a little face-to-face interaction in their business relationships.
According to Carrie Steffen from Accounting Today, “Generation X clients value efficiency and hard work, and their expectations are high.” Knowing this means readjusting your own values and expectations to mirror theirs.
According to a 2015 State of the Start Up report by Sage, 55 percent of startups were founded by Xers. The Balance outline traits of some Xers that could affect business relationships moving forward, including things like:
Learning is a two-way street. Gone is the teacher/student paradigm. Mentorship is important to Xers, as are relationships where both parties contribute, teach, and learn. It’s more of a partnership.
Multi-tasking is essential. As many Xers are caring for both young kids and aging parents, they’re typically focused on a million things at once. They rely heavily on deadlines and to-do lists to manage the mess.
They’re too independent. Xers are self-reliant verging on unnecessarily going-it-alone. They tend to make big decisions, like hiring and strategizing, without consulting those around them.
They’re strong managers. According to an EY survey, seven in 10 respondents said Xers were most capable of managing a team and considered their generation as being less condescending, cynical, or difficult to work with.
Gen X Advantages and Skills
According to some, Xers are the anxious generation, perhaps because they are so firmly entrenched in the middle of two generations that are bigger and more easily defined. Perhaps it’s also due to the rapid changes in technology that occurred after most of their basic skills had already been established. Learning a new language as adults is never easy, and make no mistake, technology can sometimes feel like a new language — one that we have to become proficient in for survival.
Although they aren’t digital natives, Xers have adapted quickly and are comfortable leveraging technology in the workplace. According to a Nielsen report, they are the most connected generation, using social media 40 minutes per week more than millennials, who are likely too busy looking young and energetic while they drink soda at the beach.
However, that same report showed that they’re able to mix that technological experience with more conventional leadership skills and are adept at identifying and developing new talent, executing business strategies, and working well with others to solve problems. Perhaps because they’re a bridge between two worlds, the report also mentions a strong ability to be more innovative and think outside the box.
Regardless of their strengths, Xers are nonetheless overlooked and slower to advance than both the boomers and millennials. They have averaged just 1.2 promotions in the past five years, compared to 1.4 for boomers and 1.6 for millennials. And yet, they are more loyal, as only 37 percent consider leaving their current companies, compared to 42 percent for the millennials.
The Future of Business
Rodney Dangerfield may have made getting no respect famous, but Gen Xers are the ones truly getting disrespected. CNBC analyzed 17,776 transcripts of Wall Street earnings calls and discovered that their generation was mentioned a total of 16 times, while the millennials received 620 mentions.
However, according to the head of marketing at Peak Sales Solutions, Keith Johnstone, with the accelerated number of baby boomers retiring, the Xers are poised to fill those gaps. He outlines five reasons why their generation will be the next world champs in the world of business:
They created tech. They didn’t actually create the idea of technology, but they contributed to the development of the modern technology sector and launched some of the biggest, most innovative companies in that sector.
They have spending power. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, they spend more per household than any other group at nearly $67,000 per year.
Smart people are putting them in charge. From Microsoft, to McDonald’s, to 21st Century Fox, those in charge, like Bill Gates, are letting Xers run the show. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Sandra Davis of MDA Leadership Consulting, said Xers are “far more nimble and agile.”
They are great entrepreneurs. Some of the most influential and innovative CEOs responsible for contributing to the world’s strongest economy are Xers, like Michael Dell of Dell Computers and Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX.
They’re paving the way. Johnstone, a millennial, says he’s “blown away by their ingenuity, intelligence, and innovation.” He also says they’re opening doors for the next generation of business people.
While the millennials struggle with self-doubt and finding satisfaction in life, the Xers are going to take their rightful place at the head of the business-world table. All joking aside, the truth is that every generation makes contributions.
The boomers were probably self-conscious of the Greatest Generation – those hardy souls that survived the depression and helped the Allies win World War II. This is the same way Xers feel about being threatened by bookend generations that are bigger than their own. When it comes to the world of business though, their time is now. When it comes to the advertising world, it won’t be much longer until they’ll be starring in all those commercials in which they’ll need to cast senior citizens.