The forgotten generation

by 12 Sep 2012

With all the focus on Baby Boomers and younger demographics, Shane Duffy talks about the unique challenges facing 'the fogotten generation' - Gen X.

Managing the needs and demands of three different generations in today’s workplace is a challenge and by 2030 this is number is predicted to rise to five. Baby Boomers and their offspring (Gen Y) are bona fide headline grabbers; not a day goes by without further conjecture over the best approach to keeping the two dominant generations satisfied. But sandwiched between 4.11 million Baby Boomers and 4.67 million Millennials (if you squint) you will see Generation X, with 4.6 million individuals.

Generation X - the “forgotten generation”. In terms of numbers, the stakes are even, yet they still remain largely overlooked.

The generational pipeline

HR strategy is constantly evolving and is on-track to accommodate Gen Z; suggestions include downsizing formal task instructions to 140 characters or less, rendering the traditional email communication system obsolete. However, Baby Boomers are predicted to remain in the workforce for much longer than their predecessors, which will produce a knock-on effect, as each generation subsequently ages and also stays active in the workplace for longer. Interestingly, from the other end of the pipeline, the influx of new people into the workforce (Gen Z and eventually the Alphas) is slowing down considerably. So the over-63s are now the fastest growing workforce with longer life expectancy, lower pension value and increasing costs of living. If this trend continues, the Gen X workforce will be similarly large and impossible to overlook.

Gen X – what do they want?

Gen X-ers are striving to control their time, build their savings and resist a feeling of being left out in the cold. They want to be given goals, see the results and have meaning given to what they are doing, sound familiar?

Smart HR strategy realises that the needs Gen X and Y are actually quite similar in their priorities:


  • Potential for advancement through gaining new skills
  • A “work hard play hard” mentality
  • Visible succession plans
  • Prerogative over career paths


The main difference is that the late onset of Baby Boomer retirement means that Gen X has hit a respective ceiling yet remains keen for increased responsibility and progression. They may feel they have outgrown their organisation if their Baby Boomer boss offers little in the way of training and development.

Whereas fast-track-Gen Y-ers are competing for promotion and popular theory suggests they feel explicitly more entitled to it. The problem is one of duplication; both are chasing the same career objectives, but with entirely different motivations. The conditions that Gen X worked hard to introduce in the workplace (flexible hours, better work/life balance, the introduction of modern technology) are those which Gen Y feels entitled to and expects as standard. Although neither is more deserving than the other, it appears that Gen Y certainly receives the lion’s share of consideration.

Same same – but different

Whilst Gen X and Y may have comparable aspirations, it’s vital to recognise them as individual members of a work community. These communities are changing workplace dynamics, and the focus should be on communication, learning and collaboration. As the job market bounces back there may even be a surge of Gen X headhunting and mid-life entrepreneurialism, don’t forget that Gen X are already the instigators of the freelance movement and do not want to sacrifice family for career, like their parents reportedly did.

From a life experience of graduating during a recession, creating the web as we know it; (think YouTube and Google, not Zynga and Facebook) and the true instigation of a work/life balance, Gen X has changed the structure of the workplace and the priorities of HR strategy.

It just seems that nobody noticed.

About the author

Shane Duffy is People and Culture Manager at  Employment Innovations (EI), which holds over two decades of experience in helping Australian businesses navigate the legal, HR and administrative challenges of being an employer.

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