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Gen Xers: More Millennial Than Millennials

Gen Xers see the worst part of themselves in Millennials, and that is creating terrible myths about them.
15 Hot Skill Sets For IT Pros In 2015
15 Hot Skill Sets For IT Pros In 2015
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Have you ever met someone you didn't like, and then have someone say, "I'm surprised, he (or she) is just like you?" And then you're forced to realize you didn't like the person because you see the things you like least about yourself in that individual. That might be what is happening with Gen Xers and Millennials.

For years we've been propagating myths about Millennials (people between age 21-35) that were recently shown to be untrue by an IBM study. The funny thing is, all those things people said for all those years about Millennials apply a little bit more to Gen X (aged 36-49).

If you want to see how those myths were busted, you can read Kelly Sheridan's article about it, but if you're in the mood to make fun of the flannel-wearing, grunge-loving, lost-generation of Gen X, I've got some good fodder for you right here. Mmmm ... smells like teen spirit.

The biggest myth propagated about Millennials is that they think everyone deserves a trophy and they want credit for everything. When asked in the IBM study if a team is successful whether everyone should be rewarded a fairly larger number of Millennials, 55%, said yes. You know who blew them away? Gen Xers. Just shy of two thirds of them felt a need for an award. Two thirds of them also said that employees should be "rewarded" for collaborating. I assume they'd be thrilled with a special trophy.

Another myth is that Millennials are glued to social media.

Again, it was Gen Xers who outpaced all other age groups in using social media to communicate with business partners, to market and sell their products, and to learn about their industry. In fact, Millennials said they preferred face-to-face communication.

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Contrary to popular mythology, people in Gen X are also more likely to leave a job for more money (47% vs. 42%) or require a large group to make a decision (64% vs. 56%). They are least likely to care about the way their own companies treat customers (40% versus 60%).

In other words, they're a surly, self-entitled, disloyal lot. And they are trying to call their younger counterparts exactly what they are themselves. As a Gen Xer I suppose I should step up and defend my generation. There are some reasons for this.

Later Gen Xers are among the first digital natives. Even those of the earliest era were young enough to witness the dawning of the Internet in their formative years. While they are digital natives, they lived through a pace of change and early years, a giant upheaval based on technology. They received the tools to make an immense amount of collaboration and positive change in the enterprise, but before they were mature enough to make good use of them.

While Millennials came to a nearly fully formed mobile enterprise, Gen Xers had to build it. We won’t get into the deeper psychology of politics or history that the Gen Xers lived through, but when it comes to the enterprise, Gen Xers are bound to be a bit clumsier with technology and a bit less trusting in the fast-paced business it allows.

So if you're a Gen Xer, what should do about it? Probably not much. Maybe whine less? Try to be nicer to the young ones? You are what you are.

If you manage them, what do you do? There's nothing wrong with collaboration. Maybe give it a try? Interestingly enough, the collaborative nature, general desire to use technology (even if poorly), and desire to reward make Gen Xers potentially good leaders and terrible followers. Given their age, it is a good thing many will soon be taking leadership positions.

If you're a Millennial what do you do? Just recognize that this is really just a hazing ritual. Boomers gave Gen Xers flak for coming in and changing their enterprise. Now Gen Xers are reflecting that flak onto Millennials. Undoubtedly, Millennials will find a reason to haze the next generation.

In the end, of course, we need to treat everyone as individuals. No generation thinks entirely alike, and we're surprisingly similar across generations. But the next time you hear someone bandy about some myths about Millennials, consider the source. You may find out that they are describing themselves.

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Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing