“Should I Stay or Should I Go?” – How Each Generation Approaches Disengagement
ur four generations – Baby Boomers, X, Y and Z – have very different priorities and perspectives in life, ranging from I Know More Than You (BB) to Leave Me Be (X) to Just Me Me (Y) to Look at Me (Z). It’s so different that not only do we clash on line at Starbucks, we clash and differ in how we deal with discontentment or disengagement in the workplace in this case. Recent research reveals that employees in the US who are disengaged with their jobs are choosing to stay with their employers despite being unhappy, either to ride it out while job searching or “bleed” the company for all the perks. Several generational experts and writers for GAIA Insights contributed our own generational perspectives. Not surprisingly, Gen Y says, “Love ME, Make ME Happy” while Gen X says, or emails, “Leave me Alone”. The revelations and insights below will help today’s organizational leaders figure out how to handle those who stick around and “bleed” vs. those who have one foot out the door with a list of demands. I predict that Gen Z will behave a little more like Gen Y until realities of adulthood suddenly make deadbeat jobs look like sweet deals.
From a Generation X perspective…
Disengaged and staying, what’s the big deal? From a Gen X perspective, I say, “why leave” if you’re not completely miserable? There are many legitimate reasons why so many Gen Xers choose to stay with their employer despite disengagement. So why do we stay if we are disengaged? We have fairly low expectations of our jobs, we do not expect to be happy or engaged! Our salary compensates for our disengagement. At a recent corporate team meeting, a Gen Y was complaining about their lack of passion for their projects and what did a Gen X tell them? “Deal with it, that’s why WORK is a four letter word.”
Gen X wants financial stability because we crave and desperately need the economic stability we’ve rarely had since childhood. We are grateful to have a job and being engaged comes second to being paid. A steady paycheck is the most important asset even if it comes at the price of disengagement. According to a study in 2013 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Gen Xers are struggling more than other generations to pay their bills and to save for retirement. From 2007 to 2010, for instance, Gen Xers lost 45% of their wealth, significantly more than baby boomers. (Source: )
Along with a steady paycheck comes this new concept of flexibility, well new to us, and “work from home” so why leave when we have finally nailed the ability to juggle work and life. For many, especially working parents, life management takes priority over job engagement. We can “participate” in calls from anywhere we want to be, meet friends for lunch, go to the shore, visit our aging parents, drive our kids to sports and truly, work when we want to, even if it’s 6am or midnight. Sweet!
Lastly, if we do want to leave, if our job is so intolerable that we’re willing to resign, we are sticking around until we find the right job and finding the right job can take months. Maybe we’re ready to dip our foot into unchartered professional waters, because we’ve been with our firm for over 20 years. Or we want to be a leader because darn it, it’s our turn! Gen X is competing with Gen Y and waiting for Boomers to retire. So what a deal: working from home, discreetly searching for jobs online and collecting a paycheck.
Gen Xers lack of face time and engagement will catch up with both, them as employees and certainly the employers. When Gen X is disengaged, yet remains in their current positions, Gen X may win logistically but looses out professionally. Professionally, a Gen X “bleeder” isn’t developing anything but honing the ability to work the system. They may “win” by balancing their busy lives every day, but they certainly don’t win in terms of the corporate latter, building and maintaining relationships. No one really wins here.
The upside in this situation is that some Gen Xers can be unhappy but still be engaged. Generally speaking, Gen X is reliable, loyal and committed, so they will tolerate working hard despite being unhappy. So while most disengaged are hanging out chatting at the copy machine much longer than they should, you’re likely to see a scowling Gen X doing enough work to get by.