According to recent research by the Pew Research Center, slightly over half of middle aged workers say they are planning to delay their retirement. You can blame it on the recession and tanking IRAs. But what it means for Gen Xers is that there will be fewer places at the head of the table. And thanks to do-it-cheaper Gen Y’s, very few new seats at the foot. Women may be in the biggest pickle of all.
According to an Associated Press story, those workers who came of age with the Brady Bunch are experiencing new levels of workplace angst:
They’re antsy and edgy, tired of waiting for promotion opportunities at work as their elders put off retirement. A good number of them are just waiting for the economy to pick up so they can hop to the next job, find something more fulfilling and get what they think they deserve. Oh, and they want work-life balance, too.
Sounds like Gen Y, the so-called “entitlement generation,” right?
Not necessarily, say people who track the generations. In these hard times, they’re also hearing strong rumblings of discontent from Generation X. They’re the 32- to 44-year-olds who are wedged between baby boomers and their children, often feeling like forgotten middle siblings — and increasingly restless at work as a result.
It becomes even more complicated for Gen-X women, often navigating unfamliar turf when it comes to the workplace, who have to scramble for any place at the table, as we’ve noted here :
Sure, we women do school well. University structures, especially, support the way we learn and succeed. Overachievers? High expectations? Duly noted and rewarded. But once we get to the workplace? Different kind of rules.
Let’s face it. We missed the socialization. From ancient times, men have been raised to know their job is to slay the dragons, and that they will be alone in doing it. American mythology, too, teaches men that their role is to go, seek and conquer. For generations, men’s roles have been predetermined, and unquestioned: They provide. And workplace — and social — structures have evolved to support the model.
For women, though, relatively new to this world of work, roles are still in flux. We never learned to slay the dragon — we were the pretty princesses waiting back there in the castle — and often, we’re a little confused by the messy nature of reality as opposed to the comfortable fit of school. And so we’re flummoxed. Overwhelmed. We’re feeling our way. Where do we fit in? How do we fit in? Should we fit in?
Then, there’s this: Gen X women are often the ones struggling mightily with work-life issues, figuring out how to balance career and family:
… many women are in a place where they have young children or have begun to think about starting a family. Suddenly, career choice becomes a matter of careful and excruciating calculation: Women raised to be masters of the universe –but still seeking the flexibility to raise their kids – are pulled in opposite directions: Meaningful career? Meaningful family life? Choices become crucial: how will we find that niche that will allow us to find satisfaction on both ends? What if we don’t? Maybe we came up expecting to achieve the male model of success; now we realize it’s impossible. Or we’re agonized and guilty because, with all this grand, amorphous opportunity, we find we don’t want that model of success anymore.
Finally, we’ve pointed out that, when it comes to family, these very same women are often judged in ways that their brothers are not:
Let’s also acknowledge that one of the most significant cons of having children might be the impact on a woman’s career; moms with young children are often passed over for promotions, while childless women of childbearing age are often passed over as well, on the grounds that they’ll likely have children soon. Despite the fact that fathers’ roles have begun to change as they’ve become more involved in child-rearing, work-life balance is still considered a women’s issue. And yet. A recent study by Lancaster University prof Dr. Caroline Gatrell found that some employers see their female employees who don’t want children as wanting in some “essential humanity,” and view them as “cold, odd and somehow emotionally deficient in an almost dangerous way that leads to them being excluded from promotions that would place them in charge of others.”
No wonder the discontent is growing: Promotion? Unlikely. Jump ship? Gotta compete with the new kids, who are cheaper to hire, and more tech savvy anyhow.
On the other hand, the AP story suggests all is not lost for the X-ers — so long as they are willing to do a little reinvention — and pimp out their years of experience for newbie wages:
Jon Anne Willow, co-publisher of ThirdCoastDigest.com, an online arts and culture site in Milwaukee, is among employers who’ve recently been able to hire more experienced candidates for jobs traditionally filled by 20somethings.
They’re hungry to work, she says. And as she sees it, that gives her fellow Gen Xers and the baby boomers she’s hired a distinct advantage over a lot of the Gen Yers she’s come across.
“When the dust settles, they’ll be exactly as they were before and we’ll just have to sift through them and take the ones that actually get it and hope the rest find employment in fast food,” she quips.
Swell. Should you stay? Should you go? Call it a Gen X sandwich, with a hefty dollop of indecision on the side.