Gen X and Its Discomfort with Corporate Life

Tammy Erickson has a very interesting article suggesting ten reasons why Generation Xers are uncomfortable with corporate life.

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.

I am at the tail end of Gen X, a few years too old to fit in with the Millennials / Gen Y even though my parents were born in the peak of the Baby Boom.  Personally I do feel just a bit uncomfortable with the thoughts of corporate life and I’ve mostly stayed out of it (I’ve been self-employed since 2002).  I suppose in large part it is because I don’t trust institutions as Erickson suggests.  I also despise cubicles…  πŸ™‚

I find Erickson’s 10 reasons intriguing.  They resonate with me but don’t hit the nail on the head (for me).  I suppose it’s possible I’m an outlier.

36405116 Here’s the list (abbreviated) and a few thoughts (be sure to go read the Erickson article as well):

1. X’ers’ corporate careers got off to a slow start and many are still feeling the pain.

I started off in Winnipeg in the very late 90s in the midst of the dotcom boom, although I must say that the job offers for a fresh comp sci grad in Winnipeg didn’t bear any resemblance to what was happening in other regions.  I worked at a few small companies before heading to grad school for a year and then turning to self-employment.  Sometimes I feel like my "career" never really started.

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

Personally I don’t recall interacting with too many people who were part of big layoffs although there were plenty of people struggling (maybe I’m a few years too young).  My father has been with the same company since he was 15 years old.  The biggest employers around my home town were a tire plant, a pulp paper plant, a grocery chain headquarters, and the regional hospital.  Even in a downturn people get sick, buy groceries, use toilet paper, and change their tires.

3. Most corporate career paths “narrow” at the top – the perceived range of options diminishes as individuals become increasingly specialized in specific functions or roles.

I’ve worried about this on-and-off since my first year of university.  Lately I’ve seen the need to specialize but I resist overspecializing.  In some ways this issue is moot when running a small startup — you can’t be too specialized.

4. Just your luck – the economy was slow when you entered the workforce and now its slowing once again – just as you are standing at the threshold of senior management.

Still feels better than the dotcom crash did…

5. And then there are those pesky Gen Y’s.

I love Gen Yers.  They are driving many good ideas into corporations and challenging assumptions.  Of course they also struggle with constant divided attention (as do I admittedly).  I have some other thoughts but no need to get into generational name calling.  πŸ™‚

6. X’ers are, in fact, surrounded by a love fest – and not feeling the love.


7. X’ers are the most conservative cohort in today’s workforce – and you’re surrounded by “shake ‘em up” types on both sides.

In some ways I feel professionally conservative, but I also abhor the status quo when it is suboptimal.  I see Erickson’s point here.  Boomers are a "do it better, stronger, faster" generation and they lunge full force into getting things done.  Millennials want to do things their way with great disdain for any impediment they see as inefficient.  There is a hubris of youth that seems to be holding on longer with the Millennials.

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.

OK, I don’t think this applies to me unless you include bloody Facebook.

9. And if Boomer colleagues are annoying, the Boomer parents of your Y reports are down-right over-the-top.

I haven’t experienced problems with this (yet – fingers crossed) but I’ve heard stories.  I would have been mortified if one of my parents called my boss about anything!

10. Finally, your own parenting pressures are at a peak.

No kidding…  I have three kids.  My family is the center of my universe.

Read the rest at Tammy Erickson’s Across the Ages.  There’s also a 13 minute interview with Tammy on the subject.

(Hat tip to David Crow‘s 10 Reasons Gen Xers are Unhappy at Work post)

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