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Surviving the Milllennials vs. Gen X at the Workplace

Ah, the Millennials. We can't work with them and we can't work without them, right?

I can't visit Google News without seeing articles about how to manage Millennials and keep them happy at work. Lately, however, I'm seeing articles that offer a new twist on the Millennial mindset -- e.g., how lame it is to be a Millennial stuck in an office full of Gen Xers!

Consider an Elite Daily piece that's written from the perspective of the lone Millennial working in an office full of Gen Xers. Here's an excerpt:

"My days are endless discussions about childcare, medical inquiries, retirement investments and ’80s references," the author writes, adding that "As soon as you start pointing out your knowledge of social media, the latest apps to make your life easier or the pros and cons of the latest iPhone release, you have instantly become just another Millennial. Thus, you've lost any chance at connecting with your older co-workers."

Oh, wow. This is like the open office environment version of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X on CBS!

This Gen Xer realizes that it's nearly impossible to generalize an entire generation down to its component parts. But let's go ahead and try, anyway! Gen Xers might seem hard to understand, but we're actually pretty simple once you put us in better context. Without further ado, here's a snapshot of the typical Gen X employee:

1. We don't hand out compliments like candy. Skeptical Gen Xers do not hand out compliments lightly. If we give you a compliment, then most likely we really mean it. You've done something great! Sure, there are 40-something Gen Xers who might be trying to suck up for some reason, but keeping it real tends to be a part of our quasi-cynical nature. If we compliment you, simply say "thanks" and enjoy the moment because it might not happen again for awhile.

2. We are the latchkey generation. Many Gen Xers were given a key to their empty house and let themselves in after school to make a snack and watch TV until a parent got home. As a result, Gen Xers expect grown-up Millennials to be self-sufficient and self-starters at work. We don't want to be helicopter managers; we're too tired helicoptering over our own kids to have the time or energy for that!

3. We're the nobody got a trophy generation. Only one person could win the trophy (or the blue ribbon) when Gen Xers were in grade school. We had to learn to deal with losing -- in front of our peers -- on a regular basis. In the process of watching a classmate win the trophy, we discovered what we do well and, perhaps even more importantly, what we don't do well. As a result, Gen X employees tend to be highly specialized, individualistic and competitive employees. We know what we do well, and that's what we like to do.

4. We're in a different phase of life. You wish your Gen X co-workers would shut up about raising kids, paying their mortgage and their daily dieting struggles, but that's...middle age. We don't mean to obsess or offend; we're simply "down in it" instead of up above it like we used to be. We would never want to go back to our 20s; we just like reminiscing about them too much. We want to connect with the Millennials, but we would never want to be the Millennials.

5. We respect diligence and follow-through. If you want to impress a Gen X colleague, then put your nose to the grindstone and do your best work every day! Gen Xers like to see gradual, forward motion toward the end goal, even if there are obstacles along the way. The quickest way to lose a Gen X employee's respect is by acting like you don't care about the work (no matter how trivial the task) and failing to follow through on what you said you would do. Never let them see you half-ass it on the job. Be good on your word, and Gen X will put in a good word for you!

6. Twitter isn't "technology" to us. The Millennials see apps, smartphones and social media as comprising "technology," but here's how Gen Xers define "being good with technology" at work: Are you able to format a document correctly all by yourself -- including margins, tables, charts, graphs, footnotes, page numbers, etc.? Can you use Excel competently? How are your Photoshop skills? To Gen Xers, being "tech fluent" at work means knowing how to use business software and computer hardware in addition to apps, smartphones and social media.

7. We see a career ladder. For better or worse, Gen Xers believe in paying one's dues. There's a workplace hierarchy that still needs to be respected. Going over the head of your Gen X manager to higher management to complain without giving your manager the opportunity to address the problem could permanently damage your relationship going forward. The good news? Gen X managers will reward an employee's hard work and dedication. Look at you, climbing the career ladder!

8. We notice good business manners. Do you remember to say "please" and "thank you"? Do you make eye contact when speaking with someone? Do you disappear into your phone when somebody else is talking? Do you know how to conduct yourself during a working lunch or client presentation? Do you represent the company well? Know the basics of business etiquette and your Gen X colleagues will think you're totally amazing.

I know what you're thinking, Millennials: Just retire already, Gen X! Well, that's not happening anytime soon -- we have to put our kids through college without relying completely on student loans and then find a way to retire -- so you're going to have to put up with us for awhile longer. Bummer. But if we can understand each other better, then we can work better together. I'll let you get back to listening to your Gen X co-worker's Alf references now.


  1. Interesting article. Baby Boomers / Gen X / Millenials etc. have different ways of thinking and it comes across both during interviews as well as day to day work environment. Our consultants at KunbaHR ( - an online HR Management Software firm see this in every organization - both small and large. But ultimately it all boils down to - 1. Treat every employee with respect, establish clear, achievable goals and follow through, ensure employees have a voice and feel like they are part of the culture, the organization and decision making process.


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