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Why Gen X Is Unhappy and Hates Working

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K-King Photography Media Co. Ltd via Getty Images
K-King Photography Media Co. Ltd via Getty Images

My friend is going to turn 50 in a few years. It's a time when people typically think about their mortality -- they've lived more than half their lives and their youth is gone. But for my friend, he has other, more pressing worries. He worries about his kids, his house, but mostly he worries about his job. You see he is part of the most ignored generation in the workplace -- Gen X. Loosely defined as North Americans born in the mid-1960s and 1970s, this generation is largely forgotten, coming after the boomers and before the boomers' kids, the so-called millennials.

Not convinced? When's the last time you read about the Xers? All you read about and hear about is the soon-to-be retiring boomers or the workplace-challenged millennials. Partly it's numbers: there are far fewer of them born in the 1966 to 1974 "baby bust" timeframe.

Gen X has been fired, abused and ignored for all of the 21st century and they were overshadowed by the boomers during the later half of 20th century. They didn't get pampered; no one ever put a baby on board sticker on a car in the era they grew up in. In my house, my mom and her friends threw us in a station wagon, no seat belts, smoked cigarettes, and maybe even drank alcohol in front of us. Street lights were the signal it was time to go home. No self-respecting Gen Xer was ever given a medal for participation; most of us got a kick in the butt if we didn't participate, like our boomer parents we just accepted it and moved on.

Gen X is the least understood group in the workforce today. They have been ignored because of the many brilliant boomers before them and the magnificent millennials who followed them. These people are your bread and butter, they have worked through more recessions than their parents or grandparents ever did. Most often they are mid level leaders who are on the cusp of becoming the C-Class but aren't thriving in the workplace. The closer these workers get to 50 the more their knowledge becomes invaluable to your organization and to your customer.

Today all the chatter in leadership development is about Millennials and retiring boomers. Let's be honest, for most organizations, no millennial is going to be tapped for a top job right now unless it is an Internet or marketing firm - yet many of these organizations are spending money on understanding the millennial and helping boomers feel good as they retire.

I work with millennials and have studied them; they are interesting, fun, and different. But they too will have families, bills, and fears. In other words they will develop like any other generation, with their own unique twists. So please do continue to invest in them - but to build your company you need to also start thinking about what is happening with the Gen X now.

To increase your productivity and innovation you need to transfer your cultural knowledge from Boomers to Gen X. Boomers will eventually leave the workforce and you will need new leaders who don't hate you. Our data, from 2013 indicate that Gen X really, really hate work and in particular boomers. This is because Gen Xers are not thriving at work. We at the DMS define thriving at work as being fully engaged, feeling valued and trusting senior management.

From a sample of our data from government agencies, publicly held companies and private companies we found that Gen X lacks energy in their jobs. When we reviewed the data from 300 participants, we found that that Gen X feel they just going through the motions of collecting a paycheck. When Gen Xers aren't thriving they aren't great culture keepers. They leave, many become entrepreneurs. The most successful entrepreneurs are in their Forties or Fifties. This means your organization will, in short order, lose not only your boomer-aged culture capital that is retiring but your Gen X cultural capital. Once you have depleted this capital it is hard to recover. You are left with an uninspired workforce, uninspired results and uninspired customers.

If not repaired, the unhappy Gen Xers who will remain in organizations will be unable to pick up the slack caused by retiring boomers and will stall the development of millennials. Gen Xers are currently supervising millennials bosses. So when observers warn of millennials leaving the workforce in droves, they might want to first investigate their Gen X bosses and their feelings of value. Our data indicates that if organizations begin to pay attention to Gen X in the workforce they will see reduced churn and increased productivity in as little as 16 weeks.

It was once said that when you are 20 you think everyone is talking about you, when you are 40 you don't care who talks about you, you go for it, and when you are 60 you realize that no one ever was talking about you.

What exactly is Gen X talking about? Quite likely quitting, coasting or checking out. If they don't believe they are valued and are fearful of losing their job are they really putting a ton of energy into their work or are they planning their next career move?

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