Pushing Balance: Gen X has the leverage to achieve Work-Life reality

Like many Gen Xers, I have been feeling the increased pressure the “do more with less” business strategy has placed upon all of us fortunate enough to retain our employment.  Especially for those in management and leadership positions; being held to unreasonable performance expectations by the organization while watching our team members struggle to manage an impossible workload.

The effects have been well-documented (see the ConferenceBoard report “U.S. Job Satisfaction at Lowest Level in Two Decades”), and for Gen X it feels even more pronounced.  For the past decade we have been struggling to find our way in a corporate environment built around the preferred traits of Boomers.  While we have been making significant contributions our compensation has not matched our impact and we have not been able to amass wealth and financial security the way previous generations have.  At the same time, we place a higher value on work-life balance over compensation, but have consistently received resistance from Boomer and Mature workers on the issue.

Employers have already identified Gen X as their future leaders (if not, see Tamara Erickson’s post on why they should “Why Generation X Has the Leaders We Need Now”).  Additionally, they are realizing there is a breaking point with the “do more with less” game plan (see “Joblessness and the Employee Tipping Point”) and they are worried about losing your talent.  As the economy is slow to recover most employers are not in a position to return the elements that were cut (jobs, bonuses, salary increases, 401k match, etc.).  They have no carrot to offer us, so use this momentary leverage to your advantage.

Let’s make a more aggressive push for what we have been gaining too slowly through diplomacy.

The Work-Life Battle

Gen X has made significant progress pushing for a more universal acceptance of work-life balance as a cultural competency, but it has always felt like we were pushing a rock up a hill.  Based on their perceptions of what’s important to career development and an outdated concept of the “office”, Boomers and Matures have been resistant.   Many traditional industries and organizations still frown upon the concept.  Our continued focus on achieving this goal is based partly on Gen X’s developmental experiences as, but as salaries are continuingly outpaced by cost of living increases it’s also becoming increasingly clear that balance is one of the few things we will get in return for our commitment.

The New “Workplace”

Web 2.0 technology and social media have made virtual productivity an accepted reality.  At the same time, globalization of the workforce has changed the definition of the “workplace”.   Most of us work with remote teams and serve internal/external customers who are geographically dispersed.  The legacy definition of the “office” is gone.

Flex-schedules and telecommuting have become a common operating practice of today’s leading organizations (84 of the Fortune 100 Best Companies allow employees to telecommute or work at home at least 20% of the time).  This has become our new reality, regardless of any generation’s discomfort with it.

“Visibility is important to career advancement

My favorite outdated viewpoint that Boomers have been touting to us as career advice for some time.  The Boomer concept of “visibility” is based on a workforce culture that has been replaced by the new definition of the “workplace”.  In today’s Networked Era, visibility can be seen in-person and in virtual environments, not physical offices.

There is no “talent shortage”

I just wanted to remind Gen X that nothing is going to change any time soon.  Remember the warnings of a “talent shortage” based on too many Boomers retiring and not enough of us to replace them? Remember this was meant to be our opportunity to accelerate our careers?  Because of the recent recession Boomers will not actually be retiring in droves and more employers are talking about engaging Mature workers as a talent management strategy.  The career stagnation that has plagued much of our “prime earning years” will continue, if not worsen.   If you are displeased with the current workforce and its restrictions on our preferred style, just know that it won’t change any time soon.

Bottom-line: behaving by their rules is getting Gen X nowhere but squeezed, so let’s change the game plan.

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