Generation X Feeling Sandwiched Between Boomers and Gen Y in the Workplace

Are you unhappy at work? BusinessWeek has had a few stories this year that talk about the generational divide that’s occurring in the workplace, and how this is affecting different generations of workers. Generation X is in a unique position right now because many workers are sandwiched between the baby boomers and Gen Y. Many boomers are still holding upper management positions while delaying retirement, and some new Gen Y people are getting hired into entry level positions. So, many Gen Xers are stuck right in the middle of two very different generations.

There was an interesting article and video on BusinessWeek that highlights some of the reasons that there are generational tensions, and also shows some responses from some Gen Xers and how they feel about their part in the workplace. The video mentions that it isn’t so much of a sense of differing values, but more of a difference in skills between the generations. I encourage you to watch the video, it’s only about 4 minutes long, but I also wanted to highlight some of the notable quotes from that page as well.

Some Interesting Quotes

MLM said:

I’m in my late 30s, and I would say that I and all my friends are disgruntled with Corporate America regardless of what industry you work in…I don’t feel loyalty to any company. You work hard and put in many hours only to get handed a pink slip.

Michael said:

I have nothing against Gen Yers or boomers but do feel stuck in the middle. I have an executive management team who are 8 to 12 years older than I am, with no plans for retirement in the near future. This leaves me stuck. I have been searching for business opportunities due to my distrust of Corporate America’s motives.

I can say that many of my Xer friends and acquaintances would rather make less in return for more flexibility with family and for the opportunity to make a difference for people.

KGHC said:

We watched our parents remain loyal to a company/lifestyle/job only to be miserable at the end. Our strategy is to find a position that blends our family/work/life into a cohesive entity that satisfies the monetary bank account and our karmic bank account.

And finally, I just had to include this quote from a Gen Y guy, who obviously doesn’t think too kindly of Generation X. I’m closer to this guy’s age than older Gen Xers, but I don’t share his vies a bit.

A Gen-Y Guy said:

It’s really interesting to hear all you Gen Xers complain about Corporate America. That is probably why the Gen Y people hate working for you. If you’re not happy, go do something else, period.

How do You Feel?

For me personally, I have to admit that I don’t sense much tension, but that primarily comes from my work arrangement. I work remotely and primarily communicate with others within the company via email or phone, so I don’t have a lot of personal time spent with others within my company. In addition, the people I directly report to are Gen Xers, and we get along great and share a lot of similar values. Some of management is in the boomer generation, and there are a few Gen Y employees, but since I don’t work alongside them, I can’t say there has been any reaction one way or the other.

That said, there are a lot of comments above that I can relate with, especially in terms of finding a work-life balance and the loyalty issue with employers. I think this is a similar trait that is shared across this generation, but I could be wrong.

Now, this is where I ask you for your reaction. How do you feel you fit into your workplace? Do you struggle with coping with boomers on one end and Gen Y on the other, or do you find it easy to work together? Is there a certain aspect or trait of another generation that you can’t stand? Let’s hear what you have to say about this.

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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.

21 comments
John Cortelione
John Cortelione

I don't want the baby boomer to get pushed aside. Yeah they have been known to discriminate in the 90's especially in the 80's. And they don't like to hire talent, not, even from their own generation. Also they get power trips.
Look the baby boomer got sold the company. If the baby boomer is about the company and someone better walks in they should get into another position and forget about their greedy selfish indiference, and do for the company that they care so deeply about.
Look at this-U.S. car companies make a good car. What is lacking is style, foriegn cars are more stylish. You just have to get the talent where the talent belongs.

Harrison B. Grumby
Harrison B. Grumby

My goodness I'm ROFLMAO from these comments! I never knew this nation was so fortunate to have all this latent Generation-X talent!

Now- Back to reality, if boomers retired tomorrow the whole bottom would fall out as Generation-X would no longer have anyone carrying them.

So go ahead GRUNGERS, whine, complain, and fall off the face of the earth! You won't be missed!

sunny
sunny

I may be biased, but I think gen xer's are the most hard working and creative of the three generations currently in the workplace. Many of us came from blue collar families and we learned the hard working ethics that you see today in the workplace from us. We also had to work our behinds off by paying college tuition increases every year (school was necessary for our generation), on top of supporting ourselves with part time jobs for rent and food. We grew up with technology and can easily jump on any program (unlike boomers) and we know how to utilize the internet as the Y's. Because we have had creativity (nick at night started with us!), technology, and a hard work ethic entrenched in our lives...why wouldn't we be a little defiant when we're forced into the "box" that most baby boomer run firms create? We're now at the age to start our own families but we can't even get our boomer bosses to listen to us when it comes to progressive, and stabilized approaches for their businesses, which would enable us to breath better when making a big commitment as a family...or even a house! I've been working marketing/business development for years now and I'm so confused why these businesses even hire young professionals. You repeatedly give them strategies for success (incorporating existing technology and some traditional strategic approaches) and they find so many reasons not to implement them and decide it will be "business as usual." Then the y generation is young and ready to kiss boomer butt and nothing gets done because everyone is happy except for us - who want to get the job done right! I like to leave my jobs before the ship sinks. I've been correct on this assessment twice now; one firm slashed their staff in half two weeks after I left and the other firm won't make it past January 09!

Drew
Drew

I have had two major 5 year careers. I am Gen X. One of them I worked for a bunch of Gen Xers and was able to exist and thrive quite well. The company paid well and rewarded hard work, but was not above handing a pink slip if it required. So you worked and you were rewarded.

My second job I work for a bunch of boomers who don't get any part of pay for performance. My direct manager is awesome, but the company itself is a bunch of money hungry wimps. When I started with the company, we were promised many things as you spend time with the company. During the last 5 years, many of those things to work for for vesting have been taken away. They cannot see why a bunch of Gen Y and X are walking away in droves (over 20% turnover). Why would you stay when all the management of the company is always hired from outside, not inside. They don't promote those that work hard because they will leave a hole when they leave. We have had the CEO block job transfers because that person is too "important" to their position. They were leaving desktop support and going to the business side of the house.

It is all sorts of junk. If the economy were not in the toilet I would be looking to bounce.

Dave Farquhar
Dave Farquhar

I work in an office full of GenXers. Our boss is a GenY. The corporate execs above him are all boomer types. There's tension, but our office was acquired, so we have a mix of generational tension and conflicting corporate culture tension, and it's hard to differentiate sometimes.

I totally get the loyalty thing. I worked for one employer for 7 years, pouring my heart and soul, literally, into it. I was promoted from desktop support into server administration, but they kept paying me desktop support money. I stayed on, hoping the raise would come some year. My reward was a pink slip just a month before I was going to get married.

Eventually I found my current job. I've been there 2 1/2 years now. I looked at some salary sites and made sure when I started I was getting a fair rate. But looking now, I've slid back into the lower 25%, salary-wise, because my raises haven't kept up with the industry (or inflation).

Boomers and Yers may complain about lack of loyalty, but when the only way to get a raise is to find another job, eventually GenXers are going to leave. Unlike them, we have families to feed. And that may be part of the loyalty thing too. We have families at home. Boomers' kids have moved out, and Yers probably haven't started having them yet. Xers have families and sometimes want to spend some time with them.

I think ultimately I'll end up being self-employed. That's the only way I can see getting the flexibility I want so I can spend some time with my family, and then, when I work extra hours, I get the benefit, instead of just making more money for the fat cats higher up in the corporate hierarchy.

Bill in NC
Bill in NC

I'm one of the older Gen Xers.

From what I've seen, unless the Boomers retire, Gen X will simply leave the corporate world.

It's unrealistic to expect someone in their 40s to be content with an assistant VP position while Boomers hang on to upper management positions until they keel over.

Sorry Boomers, but there's no way to keep those leaving from harvesting the best clients for ourselves (non-competes are essentially unenforceable, as the recent California ruling showed)

ellis reed
ellis reed

There's no doubt that Gen Y has been coddled more than previous generations. Our sense of self-entitlement gets the best of us sometimes. Because we are a product of excessive pampering throughout our youth we are left with expectations that fall far from the reality of the so-called real world. It's a let down. Whether you blame us for it or not, that's what happens.

Additionally (and I think this applies to all generations as a result of the way the business world has evolved), there is a disconnect between the work one puts in and seeing the fruits of their labor. At an entry level position one pushes papers, crunches numbers, puts in a lot of work, only to see the bosses get richer while you're left hoping for a promotion. As the quote says, "We watched our parents remain loyal to a company/lifestyle/job only to be miserable at the end."

The corporate lifestyle is different from, say, my grandfather's where he put in a lot of work building houses, but he could stand back and admire the work he put in. It can be harder to do that in Corporate America.

JD
JD

I'm also one of those who is technically part of Gen X but right on the border with Gen Y. I see a big difference between the two though. Gen X to me seems to be the last generation that was raised with lessons on success and failures and wasn't as nearly coddled as Gen Y has been. I notice it even more and more with the younger Gen Y people I know, they grew up super protected, having playdates, being taught that everyone was "equal" and that winning and losing didn't matter, etc. That makes them horrible in the work place because they can't compete. They want to come in straight from college and be given huge jobs simply because they were raised in an environment where they were always told they were the most important. In reality, these guys do terrible.

deepali
deepali

I think the "lack of loyalty" categorization is a bit unfair. When I graduated college in '99, my friends went off to corporate consulting jobs that expected and basically pushed new hires to turn over. The idea was that they hired a ton of entry-level drones to work crazy hours, and then squeezed them through a bottleneck of career advancement. Most of my friends either ended up back in school after a few years, or they went to start their own businesses.

Now, I see the lack of loyalty in Gen Y - but it's not a character flaw. Gen Y simply realized that advancement comes through personal development, which is often found by jumping around a bit. They have no need for loyalty, because they think outside the corporate 9-5 box. It's just a different paradigm.

I'm a mix of the two, I think. I am frustrated by the career ladder at my current place of employment - I have to "wait" for increased responsibilities via a promotion. Which means learning the new skills I need for development will be delayed. So I'm moving sideways, getting a different kind of experience, and not limiting my "work" to the daily grind.

Wek
Wek

Tough Money- Please see it through a Gen X perspective. During the 80's many of our parents were laid off by large corporations when that disgusting word "downsizing" was popularized (this began our corporate skepticism). When I graduated college in the 90's the economy still blew. I earned a degree from a major state university and had to work as a bouncer and bartender until the Tech Boom took off. Every entry level position had hundreds of applicants and this State U graduate was competing against Ivy Leaguers for a lousy 28K starting salary. This was also a time when corps offered "revolving door" positions that employed recent grads with 25 hour work week jobs. This got your foot in the door, but it was a corporate loophole to not have to pay insurance benefits since we were part time. So yeah, I was pissed off that I didn't have a steady income til I was 25, had no savings, no 401K, was paying back student loans and lived in "college conditions" . Most bothersome of all during this era of my life was serving drinks to a well-off boomer that had the same degree as I had or no degree at all.

And now YOU expect loyalty?

Floyd Lee
Floyd Lee

Just turned 40 and left the corporate doldroms. I work for my self now and am directly rewarded for my success (and penalized for my failure). When I need development the marketplace lets me know it is time to upgrade my skill set. I love the ability to fire an unreasonable client. I love keeping all the profit (less my expenses) and not having to support some idiot middle manager(s) in the process. Mostly though I love the flexible schedule. This means I work more hours, but I decide when.

My problem is I had my own business for 5 years when I was in my 20's and did not realize what a good thing I had. I went back to corporate world because I wanted the stability of a regular paycheck and benefits. Stability turned out to be crazy bosses who lost track of the client's needs. Yes, they lost track of the needs of the people were ultimately writing the check out of which their salaries came. Meanwhile, me and my eroding sanity were caught in the middle. Yes, I gladly pay my own health and dental insurance now. I even have a 401k with better investment choices than my former employers offered.
I will go back to corporate world if I have to, but it will only be for seed money to start the next business! My advice...find something you love AND are good at and go for it. The worst that can happen is that you wind up back in corporate world with some lessons learned and the realization that the people in cubicles and offices near yours are somewhat asleep.
As far as corporate loyalty to employees - has anyone picked up a paper lately. Employees are being let go with no notice or assistance in retraining for another profession. If that is loyalty then hand me the knife so I can stab myself. I really don't need that kind of help.

Sara at On Simplicity
Sara at On Simplicity

I haven't had to deal with much tension or divide in any of my positions. But I will agree that views on loyalty have changed since the Boomer generation.

I think post-Boomer generations are looking to have companies work hard to earn their loyalty, just as they expect to earn their own raises and perks based on merit.

KAR
KAR

I'm pretty torn on this issue. I'm right on the border between Gen X and Gen Y, so I see less difference between those two generations than between either one and the boomer gen.

I left my last job after my boomer boss refused me even a cost of living raise (in spite of good performance) because I was "only working the minimum number of hours." Gee, and I thought working 40 hours a week without fail while going getting treated for melanoma (I'm OK now) was a GOOD thing!

I've been in my current position for about a year and a half now, and I can't wait to leave. My boomer bosses expect miraculous performance and unfailing loyalty, yet they give us no incentive for either one. Lousy pay (no raises for non-management this year!), promised benefits that no one is actually allowed to use (telecommute, flex schedules, etc.), and deadlines that simply can't be met with the resources we have (we're non-exempt and they won't approve overtime). I'm preggo right now, so I intend to stay long enough to make use of my paid maternity leave benefits. My boss is already making a fuss about me taking the full 12 weeks of leave rather than just 6 or 8. I don't really care--what's he going to do about it? We already know that there are no raises coming, so he can't hit me in the wallet anytime soon. I'm the top performer on my team, plus I have excellent attendance and zero blemishes on my HR record, so if he fires me, he risks a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. It sounds bad, but the day I return to work after the baby arrives is the day my hunt for my next job begins.

I would love to have a job that I want to stick with. Even if the tasks are mind-numbingly boring, I think I would be happy with a company and managers that actually recognize my contribution. And from what I've seen in my own career and those of my friends, that isn't happening in workplaces that are run by boomers.

doctor S
doctor S

I am 25 and work for one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world. We have an immense amount of baby boomers working and most of the workforce is over the age of 40. I work in IT and find a ENORMOUS divide between all generations. Older generations are not receptive to fresh graduates coming in and taking aggressive apprroaches to solutions. Our company actually has training classes based on the different genreations and the social divide.

Xasa
Xasa

I have to say that as an Xgen'er I am suprised at Boomers anger over the lack of loyalty, ask yourself the question "Do I pay enough for the level of loyalty I expect?"
I am as loyal as they come but if i cant afford my student loan repayments, rent (forget a mortgage), kids needs, etc and you want me to work overtime for free? Perhaps there is a planet I wasnt born on many many moons again or something.
There also seems to be a double standard there too. Boomers had a cake walk compaired to Xgen'er's. There was something called overtime pay that many of them earned, now gone. There were beniftis of cheap University education, courtesy of Uncle Sam. They also got raises that not only covered cost of living (inflation) but merited increases for working longer hours and taking on extra responsibilities.
Now with the Boomers in charge they expect you to work for free and run the place while they go play golf!
Gen Y has a lot to learn but they will get thier education soon enough!

escapee
escapee

Nope, we have no loyalty. The only good job is the one where you are the boss.

I'm in this "sandwich" situation. The boomers do not have any idea what work/life balance is. I think it's pathetic that I have only taken one sick day in 10 years here because my boomer boss frowns on sick days. Then they wonder why we have no loyalty? The work/life issue is the reason. If you aren't going to treat me with respect, then I will give you no loyalty. I can walk away from this job any time I choose.

Mark Nelson
Mark Nelson

I think regardless of what generation you are in it is tough to be in corporate America right now. I started out as an entrepreneur and then went into the corporate world for awhile.

That is a tough world. My mind doesn't fit well in corporate settings.

I like to work hard but I like to work hard for me.

Jeremy
Jeremy

Tough Money, that's a good point from an older perspective. I can definitely see where this lack of loyalty to an employer can lead to a lot of problems with turnover and developing talent within the company.

Personally, I would rather have some loyalty and stick with a company for a long period of time just to bring some stability into life. Changing jobs is stressful, and I don't see all the appeal of constantly looking for a greener pasture. I want more money and a better opportunity as much as anyone else, but I don't feel like constantly being on the move trying to accomplish it either.

But I can't say the same for many of my peers. I know some people in the 30-35 range who change jobs as often as they change their underwear. I think I'd go insane if I had to do that.

ToughMoneyLove
ToughMoneyLove

I'm a boomer managing Gen X professionals. I have no problem with work/life balance improvement, as boomers have not done well in that category. However, the lack of Gen X loyalty to the employer as an institution is awful. Trust and productivity have become big problems as a result.

Angie
Angie

I think I must be in an atypical industry. At my workplace it is rare to find any Gen X people (~30 years?). Its a weird cross of 50% within +/- 5 years of retirement and 50% of people who have graduated from school within the past 5 years.

It works because it has to. Those about to retire require the young workers to keep their stocks and pension high through their retirement. And we rely on those about to retire to be able to suck all the experience out of them before they disappear. We also get all the promotions way earlier in our life than most places because there is no one in the middle career stage to take their spot.

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