When your boss is tripping over herself to lure highly skilled millennials to the company with free food during the day and beer bashes at night, what’s a hardworking, overlooked Gen Xer to do?
“We’ve described Gen X as the Prince Charles of the American workforce; the perpetual heir apparent,” says Pooja Jain-Link, vice president at the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit that works to foster diversity in the workplace.
But though you may be surrounded by digital natives who think of Nirvana as an oldies band, there are three ways to safeguard your climb up the corporate ladder.
Build bridges, not walls. Rather than trying to compete against boomers and millennials, use your understanding of both generations to help them bridge the gap. “Gen X is best positioned to be a generation of facilitators — a valuable liaison between these dominant generations that bookend us,” says Sean Lyons, a professor at the University of Guleph in Ontario who studies generational differences in the workplace.
For instance, Lyons says, millennials tend to have a lot of enthusiasm and creativity, but their ideas often lack refinement, which gets them dismissed by boomers. They may need coaching to finesse their messages. Meanwhile, you can help boomers become more technology-savvy or make them aware of the expectations that millennials have in terms of diversity or work culture.
Network, network, network. Millennials may be digital natives, but texting and swiping since childhood has left many of them deficient in one important area: building face-to-face relationships. “Not only do Xers have more connections than millennials do simply by virtue of being on the planet longer, they also have a much better ability to cultivate those relationships,” says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster. “A lot of times when I speak with millennials, they say, ‘I don’t know how to network; I don’t know how to make small talk. I feel awkward.’ ”
Show your versatility. Let’s face it, even if you’ve been Snapchatting since 2012, millennials will probably always be seen as more digitally savvy. But Gen Xers have a unique set of skills that make them surprisingly more adaptable than younger employees.
“Something like 40 percent [of Gen Xers] had divorced parents, they grew up as latch-key kids. They learned early on to be self-reliant,” Jain-Link says. “They’ve gone through a lot of economic turmoil, and they know how to bounce back or switch directions at a moment’s notice. But in spite of that they’re still highly ambitious. They want to make a difference in the world and have an impact.” As a result, Gen Xers tend to be flexible and versatile. You can work independently, or as part of a team. You understand technology, but can also think critically and strategically. You’ve got lots of experience, but still retain your passion and energy. You embrace change without being a total disruptor. “Gen X really has a lot of the best qualities of boomers and millennials,” Salemi says, “which can help them build credibility and prove their worth with both generations.”
Illustration by Cari Vander Yacht
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