GenX: Misunderstood and Underestimated - Guest Post by Mike Brooks

The 2008 financial crisis had--and continues to have--varying impacts on the generations.  

Baby Boomers, many approaching or reaching retirement age, simply have their eye on getting over the finish line. Millennials, just starting off financially and with little to no assets or liabilities, have seen their financial lives stall before even getting started.  GenX however has the most difficult road of all.

In the midst of their high earning years, while dealing with mortgages and young families, it seems that the rules of the game changed mid-stream. Their 401k’s are no longer the safe, upwardly growing vehicles they once seemed.  The guarantee that housing prices would inexorably go up has been dashed. With the Fed printing money, these assets have rebounded in a nominal sense, but there’s a continuing pessimism and unease about whether our leaders have tried a monetary solution to a structural problem. Looming financial hurricanes like medical care, social security and the lack of true Wall Street reform compound current issues.

A successful handoff of responsibility directly from the Boomers to the Millennials is unlikely. The Boomers have promised themselves significant retirement benefits via legislation, but have largely failed to save on a personal level and have failed to create a sustainable economic model at the governmental level. These promises are running headlong into the reality now striking GenX and the Millenials, namely that they are going to be expected to fund the Boomers retirement. Something’s gotta give.

GenX has a hugely important role to play as we work through these issues. Not that you’d get that impression since the press focuses almost exclusively on Boomers and Millennials. While these two generations are undeniably important and will have roles to play, GenX is the all-important bridge generation. But, if GenX does not step up and embrace its challenges, the opportunity to impact their own future will pass them by.

GenX has grown up working in the Boomers’ world. Since most companies and the government were run by Boomers, GenX has had to adapt to their methods, even when those methods have not matched GenX’s sensibilities. But it’s time for GenX to unhitch its economic wagon from the Boomers and hitch it to the Millennials whose interests are much more aligned.  

This partnership will likely happen naturally over time as the generations age and these issues metastasize. If the Fed’s financial experiments of money printing should fail, however, the Boomers will find a much more quickly unified GenX and Millennial front.

GenX should not wait for a crisis to force this combination as there is a growing recognition that the Boomers are not implementing long-term solutions that will benefit future generations. GenX must spur the inevitable generational alliances that will be required to ultimately move us all forward.

And GenX must start now.

Mike Brooks, founder of Mission30, is a 25-year veteran executive and entrepreneur. Having lead multiple organizations and technical teams, he is now a consultant, executive coach and keynote speaker. Author of the soon to be released book Unleashing GenX, Mike can be reached at www.mission30.com for more information.


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  • commented 2014-04-21 15:50:46 -0700
    Here’s part of Mike Brooks’s response:

    the main example I think of is when GenX was continually told that “shareholder value is all that matters.” I was told this by my Boomer CEO’s more or less verbatim (only later did it occur to me that they were the largest shareholders!) and it was widely disseminated in the financial press. While this mindset did not ring true to me I didn’t challenge it – the CEO’s views were set, and I needed the job more than I needed to win an argument.

    Much more sensible to me is to consider employees, the environment, etc – the whole range of stakeholders. This matches much more the sensibilities of Millennials, and GenX lead organizations such as Zappos and Tom’s Shoes, among many others, shows this makes sense financially.

    sneak preview: Mike and Morley will publish major paper on this topic through Brookings Institution in June.
  • commented 2014-04-18 14:05:56 -0700
    You write, “Since most companies and the government were run by Boomers, GenX has had to adapt to their methods, even when those methods have not matched GenX’s sensibilities. But it’s time for GenX to unhitch its economic wagon from the Boomers and hitch it to the Millennials whose interests are much more aligned.” Can you give a concrete for-instance of what this might entail?