We’re at an interesting place in our country’s generational gap.  The large Baby Boomer generation is flowing out of the workplace daily while the largest generation, Millennials, are ascendant.  However, before we turn the leadership keys over to the Millennials, there is a generation with something to say…Gen X.

Gen X now accounts for 51% of leadership roles globally according to this CNBC article.  In fact:

With an average of 20 years of workplace experience, they (Gen X) are primed to quickly assume nearly all top executive roles.

Now isn’t that interesting?  The forgotten generation will be in charge so what does that mean for everyone?  Here are some highlights from the article:

…Gen X is the most connected generation. Nielsen found that Gen Xers use social media 40 minutes more each week than millennials. They were also more likely than millennials to stay on their phones at the dinner table and spend more time on every type of device — phone, computer, or tablet. And, as it turns out, Gen X is bringing this connectivity to work.

…they also show a mastery of conventional leadership skills more on par with leaders of the baby boomer generation. That includes identifying and developing new talent at their organizations and driving the execution of business strategies to bring new ideas to reality.

And the one that I think is the pièces de résistance:

Gen X leaders’ strength for working with and through others is enabling them to shape the future of work and generate faster innovation by getting people working together to solve customers’ and their organization’s issues.

The ability to leverage people while increasing reactionary speed is going to be the hallmark of successful leadership in this rapidly disruptive work world.  Markets are moving fast, new technology is disruptive and employees are focused on personal development over loyalty.  This trifecta plays directly into the strengths of the Gen X leaders.

The finer point to this topic is understanding what type of a leader the person will be.  How will they communicate?  What drives their decision making?  What are their natural leadership aptitudes?  These topics, whether dealing with Gen X or any generation, are crucial to understanding their leadership style.

We can help by providing a detailed report on your leaders’ attributes.

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From Monster.com, I doubt you would guess what is number 1…Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers.  Seriously, there are 13% more of them now than 1 year ago.  Number 2 you might actually get – Registered Nurses which makes sense with the aging Baby Boomer generation.

Sales Managers made the list, but you will have to follow the link to find out at what spot they landed.

More and more workers are moving away from traditional jobs and towards the “gig” economy of on-demand roles that have a finite time frame.  Some of the startling trend from the Yahoo article (emphasis mine):

The report said the number of independent workers in America is expected to grow from 30.2 million to roughly 37.9 million in 2020, in part due to businesses seeking flexibility and also because young adults are more comfortable in the lifestyle.

Adding occasional independents, the projected number of US adults working independently will grow to an estimated 54 million or nearly 45 percent of the private, non-farm workforce, the group said.

I’m not sure what this effect will have on sales positions.  Perhaps the distributor/rep model that has been prevalent in certain sales for decades will become a common structure for companies.  I find it difficult to outsource a customer relationship especially if you are in a service sale.  Perhaps the development will be salespeople who have specific relationships with large companies and provide the channel to those decision makers?  Again, this is the distribution model that has been in manufacturing for decades and it would appear this model has the potential to expand in the very near future.

From today’s Herman Trend report (emphasis mine):

The other highlights of the study are fascinating: the least happy of the generations is the Baby Boomers. They expressed the strongest discontent with their employers and the greatest frustration that their loyalty and hard work have been neither recognized nor rewarded. “Almost one-third (32 percent) of Baby Boomers surveyed say a lack of trust in leadership is a top turnover trigger—the highest ranking by any workforce generation.”

Employers are most vulnerable to lose their Generation X workers. Lack of career progress is their top exit trigger (65 percent). Only 28 percent of Gen X employees surveyed expect to stay. This intention to leave is a clear signal to employers to expect a significant exodus by employees viewed as future leaders.

For the Millennials, their employers’ commitment to "corporate responsibility/volunteerism" was very important. Millennials are also nearly three times more likely to say a "fun work environment" is important than their Baby Boomers counterparts.

On the other hand, “employees who plan to stay with their current employers (35 percent) say their companies have strong talent programs, characterized by clear career paths, leadership development initiatives, trust and confidence in corporate leadership, superior programs to retain top talent, and effective communication.”

Did you catch that last topic?  Communication – this is almost a free move for any company, but it requires commitment.  The Gen X’ers are a generally skeptical bunch as I can attest – I am one.  I value all of the programs listed, yet it all starts with effective communication within the company and specifically within the manager-employee relationship.

BusinessWeek.com provides a good article for adjusting your communication for Gen X and Gen Y employees.  I can’t speak to the Gen Y suggestions, but I find the Gen X piece to be spot on.

A sample:


Generation X: Keep it up-to-date and motivating. Music at work, BlackBerrys, IM, and fast computers will help Gen X stay productive.

Generation Y: Encourage suggestions and don’t fear change. Gen Y is more comfortable with technology than any other group. Learn from them and stay on the cutting edge.


Generation X: Limit in-person meetings. Offer alternatives like conference calls, video, and Web conferencing when collaboration is truly needed. For face-to-face meetings, stick to small productive groups and skip long planning sessions.

Generation Y: Gen Y started online social networks. Think about how you can leverage them in the workplace to encourage team collaboration and knowledge sharing.


Generation X: Give them a heads-up if they should dress nicer for specific meetings or when customers are visiting the office. They’re aware it’s important to look professional, so telling them to “step it up” should not cause too much tension.

Generation Y: They’re new to the job market and might be oblivious to your company’s culture. Let them know dressing better will help defeat “slacker” misconceptions, build credibility with execs, and help their career over the long haul—especially in a weak economy.

As they say, read the whole thing.

The Wall Street Journal provides an article that does a nice job of laying out the upcoming shortage of workers.  The focus is upon the different generations and the general drive behind each.  The article is rather rudimentary, but it provides a clean view of the problem.


Americans of childbearing age simply are not producing enough kids to meet the economy’s future need for workers, notably in fast-growing fields such as medicine and engineering. The shortfall is coming largely because the fabled baby boom generation was so huge—75 million Americans born in the 18 years from 1946 to 1964—that no other generation can be expected to match it any time soon.

Ok, that point leads to this:

They are being replaced by two younger generations, each with its own desires regarding the opportunities and rewards available at work. The challenge for hiring managers is to figure out what these workers’ needs are, so that employers will be able to find them, hire them, and keep them on the job.

Retention is going to be a top business initiative over the next couple of decades which is a simply outcome of supply and demand.

The baby boomers: They place a heavy emphasis on work and successfully climbing the corporate ladder. Work is an anchor in their lives.

The Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980: They enjoy work but are more concerned about the work-life balance.

Generation Y, also known as Millennials, born after 1980 and now age 28 or younger: They often have different priorities than their Gen X and baby boomer counterparts, Smith says.

“Because of their reliance on technology, [Millennials] think they can work at any time and any place and believe they should be evaluated on the basis of work produced—not on how, when or where they got it done. Curiously, most Millennials want long-term relationships with employers, but on their own terms,” Smith says.

And finally, here is the rub we have seen between Baby Boomer managers and Gen Y employees:

The Millennials respond poorly to those who act in an authoritarian manner and those who expect to be respected due to higher rank alone. They believe they can learn quickly, take on significant responsibility and make major contributions far sooner than baby boomers think they can.

Exactly.  There has to be a balance between the boomer manager allowing the Gen Y worker to grow quickly in the role and the Gen Y worker not expecting too much, too fast.  There is distinct tension between these two goals.

As they see, read the entire thing.

The retiring Boomers and the lack of X’ers to replace them is a well-documented problem in the labor force.  The Herman Trend Alert speaks to this problem, and more importantly to a solution, in their latest newsletter:

Many Baby Boomers retirements are, in fact, often “recareering” instead. See our previous Herman Trend Alert http://www.hermangroup.com/alert/archive_5-23-2007.html. All of the major players: Adecco, Manpower, Kelly, and Spherion now offer their clients the options of rehiring their retired employees as “consultants”, thus protecting them from certain legal liabilities. Many recareering Boomers are looking for project-based work, giving their employers the advantage of not hiring them as full-time, permanent employees on the payroll.

The bottom line problem is that there is still a widespread skilled labor shortage. Employers in most industries still have a hard time finding qualified workers. Wise employers are already looking for other opportunities for their valued employees within their organizations; thus, Baby Boomers may leave their high stress, high responsibility jobs and still benefit their long-term employers with their service. A recent Spherion Emerging Work Force Study reported that 80 percent of Boomer retirees “really do want to work again in some way”. They want to keep being productive.

I’m no expert on the generations, but this strikes me as the best short-term option to solve the skilled worker shortage.  Bringing Boomers back as consultants for project-based work puts a band-aid on many problems that are sure to appear in the upcoming years.

Last week I posted on an article that discussed generational trends and specifically Gen Y and the effect of video game playing on their work habits.  Steven Rothberg from CollegeRecruiter.com added a comment to that post that I wanted to share.  Steven provides the most insightful commentary on Gen Y that I have read so I always consider his expert-level commentary.

I thought his comment on my post was as good or better than the original article:

Some may argue that video games are ruining the minds of this generation, but I feel that they’re not ruining the minds but instead changing them. The mind of someone of Gen Y age simply works differently than that of a Gen X’er or Baby Boomer.

Video games teach you how to think very quickly, collaborate (the most popular games are multi-player but even if you play single player mode you’re still collaborating with the computer), and executive decision making. Watch kids when they play video games. Yes they’re looking at the screen and can sit on the couch for hours but they’re also continuously talking with their friends and working together to solve problems. Sometimes they succeed and that’s great. But sometimes they fail.

The opportunity to fail is refreshing for a generation of kids who have grown up not being allowed to fail by their helicopter parents some teachers who mistakenly feel that everyone must succeed all of the time in order to have high self-esteem.

Now look at those same kids once they get into the workplace. You’ll find a group that is able to think quickly, decisively, and collaborate to reach goals which are optimal for the group. Sound familiar to their video game experiences? You bet.

These definitions are from Selling Power’s Talkin’ about Different Generations:

  1. The Silent Generation
    Consisting of workers over the age of 60, these folks tend to follow traditional patterns; they take their work seriously, expect to do this job for the rest of their working life, and feel comfortable working alone, knowing that they are trusted to perform up to or beyond expectations.
  2. Baby Boomers
    Born between the years 1943 and 1964, Boomers currently comprise almost half the workforce in many organizations. They tend to be a bit more individualistic than their elders, and struggle with workaholism and work-life balance issues.
  3. Generation X
    Born from 1964 to 1981, Gen X-ers have been causing managers to run for the Maalox ever since they began entering the workforce a little over 20 years ago. Frequently more tech-savvy and resourceful than their forebears, these folks tend to value highly personal relationships, time with the boss, and the chance to explore volunteering opportunities.
  4. Generation Y
    Those born after 1981 are typically lumped in the Generation Y category – they frequently make less distinction between their jobs and personal lives, and often embrace 100 percent telecommuting. Money is not their prime motivator – what they’re doing and whom they’re working with tends to excite them. A better motivator than more money for Gen Y-ers is more time off, perhaps to take a three-day weekend for an outing with friends.

Ok, so those are some apt descriptions in general terms.  However, this is the pull quote from the article (emphasis mine):

While some might be quick to attribute this “slacker” phenomenon to an increased laziness and narcissism among younger people, Nelson argues that the real increase is in the need for immediate feedback.

From a behavioral standpoint, playing a video game, which all kids grow up on today, the amount of feedback averages 60 times a minute,” Nelson says. “You take the same kid who’s had years of that type of instant feedback, drop him into a job and tell him to say, ‘And do you want fries with that?’ – of course he’ll be bored out of his mind.

I haven’t heard that analysis before but it certainly makes sense.  We don’t own a game system so I am somewhat unfamiliar with them.  These systems definitely hold sway over my 8 year old son though.  The interaction between the game and the player is frequent so many years of this reinforcement would have some effect.  Interesting premise.