Monday, July 2, 2007

Generation X -- What is next? How About The Gray Ceiling?

It is true that every generation in America has come of age at distinct moments in our country's history. Generations X (those born between the years 1965-1976) were the first technology driven generation in America. We experienced Pac-Man and Frogger as hit games at the arcade. We grew up watching MTV, when it actually played music videos. TV shows like The Cosby Show, Seinfeld and Friends helped define our generational values.

But as we now come of age and dare I say become adults, what is next for our Generation? Most of my fellow Gen X colleagues answer this question with a shoulder shrug and a quick "I don't know!" It seems that once again, Generation X is stuck. We graduated college when the economy was poor, taking our expensive, heavily debt financed degrees to work at places like Starbucks serving coffee for minimum wage (by the way, nothing against Starbucks... I love their Lattes). Now, after working hard to advance in our careers, with the promise of better things to come, we are once again stuck in the middle.

After working hard to become the most productive generation the American workforce has ever seen, Generation X is ready to move up to the next level of organizational challenge. The problem is, we have no where to go. As was highlighted in the Fortune article titled "Are You Stuck in Middle Management Hell," by Anne Fisher, it now appears that a whole generation of workers now cannot get ahead, because the aging Baby Boomers above them won't budge. In essence, they have created what is now known as "The Gray Ceiling."

No matter how manner hours we work or weekends we give up to create value for our organizations, advancement is still almost non-existent. We are stuck. In addition to being stuck behind the Baby Boomers who won't let go and move on in their careers, we now have the next great generation, Generation Y, moving into the work force. This generation is just as technology driven as Gen X, but not as interested in corporate politics and games. Gen Y is willing to come into an organization and work hard to complete a specific task or job. Once the task at hand has been resolved, this Generation will most likely look to move on to a new challenge or experience. The problem for Generation X is that organizations know that they can get the same technologically savvy employee in a Gen Y'er that they could get with a Gen X'er, but for significantly less cost. After all, experience and knowledge costs more in the workplace.

So what can Generation X do the break through this "Gray Ceiling?" For many, the answer is to start their own business. Generation X is known as the most entrepreneurial generation in the history of America (remember the internet boom of the late 1990's). As large, well established organizations continue to inadvertently advertise that younger workers will never get promoted if they come to work under their Baby Boomer managers, the "latch-key" generation will continue to evolve and move forward in its own special way. Whether it is starting a new business, making a lateral move internally, or jumping to a new industry all together, the "slacker" generation will find a way to break through the "Gray Ceiling."

No comments: