The voice of Gen X (in response to Gen Y)

This month we are showcasing voices from different generation to help understand them…

After all, the Golden Rule has now been amended from “treat people how you would like to be treated” to “treat people how they want to be treated”. By better understanding different generations and our teams’ motivations, we can hopefully work together more collegiately in the workplace.

Last week, we listened to what Gen Y had to say about the workplace, and now it’s time for Gen X to respond.

Disclaimer: This is only an example to illustrate voice and main points of interest.

Jenny is responding to Sarah’s requests to understand where her position is going and what she can expect for her career path. 

She calls Sarah into her office the next day after the first meeting. And here’s what she said:

“Sarah, I hear your concerns. Thank you for bringing them to my attention. I understand where you’re coming from, but I’d like you to hear about how I view the pathway to success here.”

“I came up through the ranks at our company by working hard, learning how the business works first and showing my loyalty. I didn’t spend time worrying about the next step in my career, but rather focused on getting the job at hand done and done well. I was always told if you work hard and do a good job, people will notice. And that’s how I’ve viewed my rise up the ladder here.”

“When you demonstrate that you can handle more responsibility and show you add value to the company and your boss, then you’ll get the next promotion or raise. Sure, along the way, I’ve had to push or nudge a boss into seeing that it was time for the next raise or apply for a promotion, but I knew that I had proven my worth to my superior and team to deserve whatever came next. Our salary increases were generally minimal and only increased more significantly if we changed roles or if a position became available. Our career progression was gradual and systematic, I.E., casual, PT, FT, Salary, Supervisor, Manager and so on…in fact, our first real salary was probably around $28,000 annual.”

“I have a family and own a house, so knowing my job is stable and secure is important. I’m here for the long term, making me care a little less about whether I’m completely motivated and fulfilled by my day-to-day work (with a priority on regular income and flexibility to assist with family requirements).  I understand that you might not be settled yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t commit fully to your job even if you don’t immediately feel a connection. It may come with time and learning more about the industry.”

“I’m suggesting you consider giving us a longer shot to prove why you should stick with the ‘INSERT INDUSTRY’ field and, more specifically, this company.” 

What Gen X Wants 

We will work hard and stay loyal to a good job, but we want our superiors to trust us to get the job done (just like our Gen Y friends). However, the reason behind our desire for independence is much different. We want to attend our kids’ school play, or run them to dentist appointment. Or perhaps we need to fit in a doctor’s appointment for yourself. Knowing that we can do that, and then hop on our laptop that evening to follow up on emails and projects is extremely important.

What drives us to keep going to work day after day is a desire to support our families and lifestyles (owning a home, car, family holidays and school fees). We want to also be able to put back money to pay for our golden years as well as save for our kids’ educations and afford ALL our kids’ activities.

But sometimes we feel stuck—Baby Boomers aren’t retiring as quickly as we’d like. Gen Yers joining the workforce mean there’s potentially cheaper labor out and new thinking that could be encroaching on our jobs.

Flexible but stable

We are the first generation to push for a better work-life balance (although we are still generally always accessible or available and we can get frustrated if others are not). More women are becoming heads of companies or at least managers who may sympathize better with working parents. We just want to be able to balance our careers with home life. Pay the bills—and save a little, gasp!—while still pursuing a career at a stable, long-term growth company.


We will generally stay at places for at least 5 years (and will question those who have movement in their resumes as in our eyes, this may mean no loyalty or commitment – redundancy situations are generally excluded as an occurrence taken out of people’s hands). We do not make decisions to leave an organisation lightly. If we do leave an organization, it will be due to ethics, not able to contribute or feel heard or valued or financial commitments.


We tend to follow the idea that if you work hard and do a good job, then your superiors will take note in the form of promotions and raises. Due to family focus and pressures, we need flexibility and will give commitment back in return. We do still equate hours as hard work so even if we leave early, we will make the hours up.  We might not be on the front lines pushing for a huge promotion (as we were taught that we needed to earn our stripes), but rather coming in every day and just doing our best will put us in the best position to get noticed.


Keep in mind, while Gen Y might embrace technology or even be unable to survive without it, we were the first generation to start using email, Internet and cell phones. We can adapt to new platforms, tools and apps with the best of them. Don’t count us out!

We are next in line to be the big boss at work. But, the Baby Boomer generation is working longer and past traditional retirement age. This means we are stuck. So it’s really important to us that if we have a boss, these bosses who may have been there forever (and are preventing our next promotion), mentor us and at least give us their trust—the trust to lead a project, get the job done and develop others without being micromanaged. We value on the job development and interesting projects to be involved in or lead.


We like to hear the word thank you! We don’t mind helping others or doing nice things. No matter what the generation (but particularly applicable for Gen Ys),  if we are supporting you or doing something nice in the workplace, actually hearing people say, “Thank you, that was really nice of you and I appreciate it,” goes a really long way. We do not like to feel taken for granted. Some things include but are not limited to:

  • We hate being lied to (including little white lies)…we value transparency.
  • If we put on morning tea/Melbourne cup lunch – we like people to appreciate the effort, time and cost with doing something for others.
  • If we stay back and get something finished or help fix emergency situations, we like this to be recognized. Not excessively, but certainly where it is out of the ordinary.