10 Reasons Gen Xers are Unhappy at Work


This was an interesting blog post, which came from a discussion on Harvard Business Review. At least, it could spark an interesting conversation. I’m considered to be a member of Generation X. I was born in 1974. My parents were Baby Boomers, from the early part of the generation. I’m reaching that point in my career where I don’t entirely have a lot of power, but I’ve built up more than 15 years of experience. I work mostly for Baby Boomers, and the Gen Y members of the workforce already have a few years of experience. I currently work with at least one person who was still in diapers when I started high school yet he is old enough to drink today. It’s an interesting position to be in.

Harvard Business Review makes some assertions that I don’t exactly agree with, but I’m only going to discuss this from my perspective rather than assume that all Gen X’ers see things my way. I do find myself frustrated as a member of Generation X working in a corporate type environment, but not simply because it’s a corporate environment. The original article states:

Many of you X’ers are not thrilled with corporate life. You tend not to trust institutions in general and deeply resent the Boomers’ confident assumptions that you will be motivated by the same things that Boomers have long cared about. Many of you have told me that you are planning to leave corporate life “soon” – to start entrepreneurial ventures or work for smaller companies – options you feel will suite you better than the corporate roles looming ahead.

Honestly, I don’t see it like that. I grew up in the Air Force, and served in the Navy, and I’ve been working around the Navy ever since. I’m honestly very comfortable with it. I don’t mind it one bit, and I’m mostly happy to continue my career in this direction. I’ll address two points that stood out to me, then put in my two cents:

2. When you were teens, X’ers witnessed adults in your lives being laid off from large corporations

I was in my class “C” technical school in San Diego in 1993 when IBM went through it’s historic layoff. That really shocked everybody. But to be honest, I’ve come to the conclusion that an adult is an idiot to get into one job and expect it to last forever. I know that the WWII and Boomer generations were able for the most part to start working for one company and expect to retire from that company 40 or so years later. I’ve never been able to do that. I spent 6 years in the Navy, 1 year as an alarm installer, 5 years with one company, 3 with another, and I started with my current company this past March. I’m 34. In today’s work force, I realize that in most cases, the only way to move up is to move out. When I’m working for one company, I do the best job I can, but I realize that stagnation is my enemy. I always have to keep the next step in my career planned ahead. Today’s workforce is highly volatile, and I never know if I’ll get the axe. I haven’t had to worry about it, and I don’t expect to, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t plan for it just in case. I do the best I can, but I have to keep learning new skills to keep moving ahead. I’m honestly tired of having to keep moving from company to company, but I’ve come to expect it for the time being.

My dad’s career has been good to him. He served for 21 years in the Air Force, a few months in a pawn shop, then after getting his associates degree, he’s been working for the government. He hasn’t had to worry very much about job security. One thing I grew up watching my dad dealing with that I’m not about to is taking too much “crap” from his bosses. I guess my dad grew up and started working in an environment where you weren’t allowed to question authority. My dad was often under the influence of decisions that he disagreed with, but he would simply suck it up then take it out on us later when he gets home. I do my best to be diplomatic, but if I disagree with something or can think of a better way to do it, I will pipe up. I refuse to be complacent in that regard.

Back to job security, another point to keep in mind is that many markets are changing thanks to “globalization.” I don’t like it personally, especially since many policies coming from Congress and the executive branch seem designed to destroy our economy and move jobs overseas. Look into it. Like it or not though, it’s happening. People in manufacturing jobs are finding out left and right that those jobs just can’t compete against Communist Slave Labor in China.

8. Many X’ers’ are guarding a closely held secret: you’re not all as comfortable with the technology that is changing the way things are done as everyone seems to think you are. While it’s perfectly acceptable for Boomers to feign ignorance and ask for help, it’s embarrassing for X’ers to do so.

I don’t buy this one, but maybe I’m on the wrong end of Gen X. I’m not putting myself forth as a representative of the generation by anything more than my own experience, but I still don’t think this point widely applies to all of Gen X. I have an IT degree, for crying out loud. I’m perfectly comfortable with the technology that I work with. This is where I find myself running into problems in the workforce: it’s not me that’s uncomfortable with the technology, but I get highly frustrated dealing with people making policies about the technology who aren’t comfortable with it. Where I work, there are still a lot of Windows 2000 workstations. Windows XP workstations are just now starting to be widely deployed. Windows XP has been out since 2001, and although it will be supported until 2014, Windows Vista has been out for more than a year and a half and contrary to Apple’s “switcher” advertisements, is mature and stable. But the idiots making the policies need 20 years to be comfortable with the technology. By the time they deploy Vista, it will have been out of service for at least a year. One guy I work with told his company that he wanted a company cell phone because he was starting to use a lot of his personal minutes for the job while working on other sites. He was told to find a land line. Sumbitch, that’s cheap and narrow minded thinking for a technology company.

So to summarize, I don’t agree with most of the ten points, and I specifically don’t agree with these two. I don’t have a problem with Boomers (as long as they’re not setting technology policies) and I like the Gen Y people because I can talk tech with them.


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