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Gen X to Gen Y: Quit Whining, We Have It Worse

— by Jessica Stillman

An article in New York magazine recently set off a bit of an online shouting match between 20-something Gen Yers and representatives of the smaller and less intensely examined generation a decade or so older than them. (And if that’s not complicated enough for you, the conversation spurred those caught in the middle to declare that  they’re entitled to their own label as well — hello, “Generation Catalano!”)

It all started with Noreen Malone’s tale of Gen Y woe in New York in which she describes the trials and tribulations of trying to start a career – not to mention a life – in the current economic climate. In response, a thoroughly annoyed Mat Honan declared on Gizmodo that “Gen X Is Sick of Your Bulls**t:”

Generation X is tired of your sense of entitlement. Generation X also graduated during a recession. It had even sh**tier jobs, and actually had to pay for its own music. (At least, when music mattered most to it.) Generation X is used to being f*****d over. It lost its meager savings in the dot-com bust. Then came George Bush, and 9/11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Generation X bore the brunt of all that. And then came the housing crisis.

Of course, this is all part of that favorite recession-era pass time – arguing over who has it worse – which the Atlantic cheekily dubbed “The War to Be the Greatest Put-Upon Generation.” (Here’s a Cliff Notes version of the same debate for the ADD–afflicted or the pressed for time.)

What does this internet shouting match have to do with business? Besides being pretty entertaining to take a corner (Generation Catalano isn’t going to take it any more!), the online anger does have an underlying message: Plenty of your linchpin Gen X employees are probably quietly simmering in utter rage and frustration.

Gen X Malaise

A recent survey from the Center for Work-Life Policy, for example, found:

  • 41 percent of Xers are unsatisfied with their current rate of advancement and 49 percent feel stalled in their careers.
  • 43 percent of Xers say that their ability to pay off their student loans is (still!) an important factor in their career choices and 74 percent saying the same about credit card debt.
  • 43 percent of women and 32 percent of men in Gen X don’t have kids. Among non-parents, 60 percent of women and 36 percent of men feel their personal commitments are perceived as less important than those of colleagues with children.

“For employers worldwide, the X factor is crucial to future success but few corporate programs are directed at their needs,” concludes the report. The takeaway here is that all your harping on about the needs and preferences of Gen Y may be killing your chances to keep your best Gen X employees.

Helping Your Gen X Employees Feel the Love

A recent Bloomberg story took note of this issue of firms overlooking the needs of Gen X and rounded up some programs businesses are using to keep their Gen X talent. Credit Suisse, for example, is running a training program that lets Gen X women work with senior executives on a project. This counters the widespread sense of career stall among Gen Xers by showing paths to advancement. Cisco offers overstretched Gen X employees up to 12 months for a career break.

“There are days when I’ve said the corporate environment feels like prison,” said Gen Xer Tina Spaulding, who was interviewed for the article. “The biggest thing you can offer me, more than salary, more than anything else, is flexibility.” Work-life balance, she says, isn’t just for kids. And careful consideration of employee needs isn’t just for Gen Y.

London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for

(Image courtesy of Flickr user marvin L, CC 2.0.)

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