Life Balance: X vs. Y

Written 8/14 by GettingGenZ for Gaia Insights, Talent Management Consultants –

Work-Life Blend from a Gen X perspective:  “Unblend my Life, Please”

For Gen X, the blend between work and life, or flexibility, has advanced parallel to technology. Up until a few years ago, Gen X did not have, nor want, a blend between work and life. The technology was not yet developed that would enable us to bring our work home into our personal lives. So we worked really hard at work and rarely took our work home with us – it was on a dinasour PC that didn’t communicate with anyone.

Then around 1994, emailing within the company was discovered and I will never forget saying, “Wouldn’t  it be amazing if we could email people outside the company”.  And a couple of years later we could… so the walls came crumbling down between work and life. We thought, “Cool, we can get personal tasks done at work… but uh oh, that means we can get work done on our personal time, too”.

Twenty years later, with technology promoting flexibility, Gen X accepts blending work and personal life because we need the flexibility that enables us to juggle  so many balls in the air – children, aging parents, civic volunteering AND a career.  Driven Gen Xers who want to be successful, or even stay in the work force, try to be available 24/7.  It’s a civil exchange between employer and employee. Also we “grew up” with limited flexibility, now that we have it we totally appreciate it and rarely take advantage of it.

While flexibility is wonderful, it’s hard to juggle each of our two lives on one smart phone. For example, when I’m at a soccer game taking pictures with my phone, it feels like my boss is listening or watching through the iPhone. Balancing work and life is a game, yet a continuous challenge that can be very overwhelming. There’s a limit to how much we can take. For example, “Leaning In” ismotivational in theory but if you lean in too much, you can fall over.

Balance also means being on call 24/7 which truly isn’t balance.  If I had my way, I’d unplug from my day job at 8pm and on weekends entirely. But I might miss out, and missing out has very scary implications for me and for my family.

The Balance between Agility and Resilience

As the work-life balance changes for Gen X, the way we work and how we work is being challenged by our younger colleagues. Gen Xs are Resilient while Gen Ys are Agile – opposing styles but each necessary for success.  “Resilience” is one of the most popular words among Gen X  because we define ourselves as being Resilient and we want to raise Resilient Gen Zs.

In the office, Gen X tends to be laser-focused on tasks, historically spending days locked in their office “with their head down” and that was viewed favorably. You can always rely on a GenX to get the job done, on time and within budget. We should be resilient, yet modify some Gen X behavior to become a better leader of Gen Ys and others. A good example is the chief creative officer of Ideo, a global design consultancy, where he stopped spending days in offices and walks around to inspire people.

Gen Y is so Agile that they make Gen X dizzy. Gen Y is working 24/7: multi-tasking, moving and shaking all around the organization. We often think many Millennials can’t finish what they started, don’t see the bigger picture and never stay on course.  Yet I admire their energy and mental strength to multi-task like this. Here lies an opportunity for the resilient Gen X and agile Gen Y to play off of each other’s strengths, not be forced to change. Each style is critical in an organization and if done in tandem or on a team, even better.

The Balance between Fun and Business

Gen X doesn’t have time for fun at their workplace. I enjoy working with many upbeat and fun Gen Ys but fun is still foreign to me at work. To Gen X, having fun is a luxury or monthly event, so “fun” at work is a long stretch.  The most “fun” we have begins when we leave work on time and spend the afternoon or evening caring for our families or enjoying our hobbies. We are annoyed if we have to spend 30 minutes in a conference room for someone’s birthday cake because that takes away 30 minutes of our work time.  We’ve always treated our jobs as places where you are your serious side, and your fun side only gets exposed outside of work. 

Yet, as the Balance between work and life becomes Blended, or even Blurred, Gen X might benefit from lightening up and having more fun at work. Gen Y certainly likes to have Fun and while it can be annoying for us rigid Gen Xs, we should have fun at work, too. While we want our personal time, we do want to enjoy our colleagues and have a job that we look forward to going to. Getting to know and goofing around with your colleagues, employees, and maybe employers, goes a long way.



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