Gen X “Title” vs. Gen Y “Tribal”

Here’s my Gen X POV on Relationships in the Workplace for Gaia Insights, a Global Leadership Consulting Firm – –

From a Generation X perspective…
Gen X is the self-reliant generation, the latch key kids, we’re skeptical survivors marching to the beat of our own drums…  We cherish and protect our personal life; sharing it with my boss could be used against me.  We don’t know who we can trust… that is our stereotype. But as always, there is a bit of truth in it:

Importance of Tribes – Yes but…
Most Gen Xers I interviewed have never belonged to a tribe at their workplace, or at least called it that,because a tribe shows dependency, a quality Gen X avoids. Many feel the tribal concept sounds  “immature or frat-like”, alienating those who aren’t inducted. (Honestly, it can be nauseating to some Gen Xers.)

Gen X has “work friends” not “peops” or “tribal members”.  As a Gen X, who like most, has been loyal to my employers, I’ve worked in only 4 corporations over the past 20 years. Over the years, a few of my co-workers became “work friends” and sometimes they were allies if we had a common cause or co-worker to battle. But individual performance trumps tribal performance – we have families to feed, helicopter parenting roles to fill – no time for tribal games.

Gen X men seem to have more tribal relationships than women, especially men in male-dominated industries like finance. Unfortunately, women continue to battle one another, so a tribe might be helpful for women.  According to Peggy Klaus, a leadership coach, “…one of the last remaining obstacles for women is how they treat one another.”

But we see Gen Y demonstrate surprising loyalty to their tribe, personally and professionally. Gen Y seems to thrive on their tribes and just like technology, Gen X needs to get in the game to keep up.  Gen X should get into or create a cross-generation-tribe for the purposes of networking and job retention alone.  Don’t expect us to invite you over for dinner, but a loyal Gen X will “have your back” at work.

Virtual Networking – Yes but… 

Gen Yers always bring a thousand virtual guests to their face-to-face meetings – social or professional – so they can multitask, network and post during this meeting or any other engagement.  I see them typing at warp speeds weaving their social webs from behind a screen. They’re so proud of this ability while to Gen X, this is rude, especially when we are their superior giving them the feedback they crave!

Gen Y may be fast and furious when it comes to virtual networking, but is it productive… are virtual relationships the same as personal relationships? Gen X doesn’t think so, at least not yet. We do not let strangers into our network easily. We need to have at least one individual connection (phone call or face to face) with a person before we will “network” with them. We prefer to help out a personal contact over a virtual contact when asked because virtual doesn’t allow us to fully get to know them.

The majority of Gen Xers I know don’t network virtually aside from Linked In. They network personally – like a lunch or a phone call – because that shows more effort and solidifies a relationship. We grew up without social media, worked with a “human touch” and thus relied on personal connections. You can read and learn so much about a person just by their face and their body language. You know within seconds if you’re going to get along with this person who just sat down.

The outcome will justify the means: Will virtual connections deliver as well as personal connections?   Generations can learn from each other.  With the digital experts Gen Z entering the workforce, Gen X and even Gen Y are going to be forced to do more virtually. But Gen X should continue to be the role model generation when it comes to networking and professional behavior. Look up Gen Y and Z!

Human Touch – Yes please
Human Touch is a topic where Gen X and Gen Y differ completely.  Gen X snickers at the amount ofover-sharing Gen Y does in the work place.  Interesting that they think we care enough to listen all day… but we don’t have time or energy to respond. Why are we so different? Gen X was all about the “human touch” back when we worked for the same company with the same people for many years. But that sense of security and friendship changed as layoffs then startups replaced corporations. Gen X became their own bosses, becoming more independent, and skeptical, losing the human touch we had with prior employers and colleagues.

Fast forward twenty years and Gen X remains skeptical about getting too personal at work – we keep our personal life undercover and only our professional life exposed. We’re afraid that revealing our “human side” could make us vulnerable, used against us professionally. While we may appear overly rigid and buttoned up, deep down Gen X wants some level of human connection, particularly with those we learn to trust. We agree it’s fulfilling and rewarding to have true connections with co-workers, because we can communicate so much more effectively. But there’s a limit.

The presence and importance of human touch depends on the company culture. For many, especially Gen Y, the workplace is becoming their home away from home so they want deep connections. Gen X is learning to accept that being a little vulnerable is low risk, high reward. Remember the words of wisdom: “I get by with a little help from my friends”.



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