Gen X – Young & Restless

Part 2 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens for a lot of my views. Yesterday I began this four-part series by looking at the Millennials. Today I want to look at the second of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team. The remaining two generations will be examined tomorrow and the next day.

Generation X – (Born 1965-1981)

Possibly the most misunderstood generation in a leadership role today, this small (approximately forty-six million) but influential population has worked to carve out its own identity from its parents and younger siblings.

As you noticed yesterday (and will again tomorrow), technology has had a big impact on the Xers. While it was a single device for the Boomers, Xers were swamped with the media choices that sprung up during their lifetimes: cable TV, digital TV, satellite TV, VCRs, video games, fax machines, microwaves, pagers, cell phones, PDAs, and of course, the most life-changing item of all: the personal computer.

Most of the inventions above were intended to simplify the American way of life, but ask any Gen X about their childhood and you fill find that it was pretty complex. Violence appeared not only on television but close to home in the form of AIDS, crack cocaine, child molesters, and drunk drivers. Taken together, the message came across to Gen X: the world wasn’t as safe as it used to be. The number of single-parent households skyrocketed, and Mom wasn’t home with milk and cookies at the end of school. Instead, it was off to afterschool care or home to an empty house to play video games till supper.

The insecurities that developed during their childhoods continued as they became adults. Lay-offs, downsizing, fierce competition were just a few of the hallmarks of the world that Gen Xers came into as they entered the work force. The rate of change they’ve seen during their lifetimes and the cynical sense that everything is temporary play into their distrust of career permanence. After all, if their computers can become obsolete in a matter of months, what does that say about their own shelf life at work?

– “When Generations Collide,” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

Generation X – the 30 to mid-40 year olds in your church – are an extremely resourceful and independent groupp.

As with any of the generations discussed in this series, it is hard to define Generation X. There are some dominant themes that characterize segments of the group, and will be beneficial for leaders with Gen Xers on their team:

  • Freedom – many Xers reject workaholics and expect personal satisfaction from their jobs; their other interests are just as important as work
  • Issues of survival – national and global issues such as world hunger, famine, poverty, AIDS, pollution, and so on are large and complex; Gen Xers don’t expect these issues to be solved and indeed, see their own quality of life declining in their lifetimes
  • Feeling neglected – more than 40 percent of Gen Xers are children of divorce; often from a single parent home. Isolated from family, they turned to technology to develop relationships

Where does that leave you as a leader in ChurchWorld with Gen Xers on your team?

For Gen Xers, it’s not about job security but career security; they will build a repertoire of skills and experiences they can take with them if need be

Many Gen Xers are looking through the world with a skeptical lens

Because of what they saw their parents and friends’ parents go through, they are often not willing to pay the same price for success

They are ambitious and hard-working, but focused on balance and freedom

Raised on sound bites and accustomed to instant information, Gen Xers like their information in a manageable format

One more thing to think about: because of the large number of Millennials compared to the number of Gen Xers, a big shift in leadership will be taking place in 2015 – the majority of the workforce will shift from Baby Boomers to Millennials – completely bypassing the Gen X leaders on your team.

How do you think they are going to react to that?

Generational Disclosure: I am the parent of one Generation Xer, a 31 year-old son who has a 3-year-old son. He is a chef, kitchen manager, and regional trainer for the restaurant chain he works for. In addition, I work with several Generation Xers in my company, I network with many Xers across the country in my consulting role, and the leadership team at my church is exclusively Gen X.

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