Generation X [Born 1965–1980]
As Baby Boomers took their time to grow up in a world that beckoned them, built malls for them and seduced them into adulthood kicking and screaming, Generation X was pushed toward adulthood at an age earlier than any other recent generation. Whereas Baby Boomers came to understand that the future was theirs for the taking, Generation X felt the future had been given to their parents and older siblings and found the future disappointing and somewhat unappealing. While Baby Boomers whined about the long lines for gas in the mid-1970s, Gen Xers watched from the back seat wondering what the future held. Just like the malls, shopping centers and office buildings they would come to work in and the videos they would rent, everything appeared secondhand and pre-viewed.
Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers grew up in an era of emerging technology and political and institutional incompetence. Watergate, Three Mile Island, Bhopal, the Iranian hostage crisis, Iran-Contra and the Clinton-Lewinsky debacles mark the emergence of this generation. Mimeograph machines turned into high-speed copiers, faxes plodded from 30 minutes a page to seconds, and heavy adding machines were replaced with handheld calculators. Whereas computers were the size of whole buildings for the Traditional Generation and whole rooms for Baby Boomers, the computer now became a desktop appliance.
Gen Xers spent less time with their parents than previous generations of children had. First recognized as latchkey kids, this generation found themselves home alone and taking care of themselves and their siblings, while their parents worked. Divorce was common. They were not coddled for every emotional need and want. Gen Xers learned that their parents were human and fallible and often found themselves treating their parents like older friends. Autonomy and self-reliance, rather than respect for authority, was a natural byproduct of the Generation X childhood.
Gen Xers learned independence early in life and turned it into a valuable hallmark as they progressed in the working world. Just as Gen Xers were about to hit the workforce to make their mark in the world, the economic decline at the end of the 1980s occurred. Suddenly the future looked crowded. Competition for jobs was tight. The American dream had changed. For the first time in history, this generation was being told that they would not be able to replicate the lifestyles of their Baby Boomer cousins and parents. Ungraciously dubbed the “boomerang generation,” many Gen Xers were forced to move back in with parents while in their 20s.
Characteristics of Generation X workers
- Feedback and recognition
- Time with manager
- High-quality end results
- Balance between work and life—work to live not live to work
- Flexible work hours/job sharing appealing
- Free agents
- See self as a marketable commodity
- Comfortable with authority but not impressed with titles
- Technically competent
- Internal promotion
- Ethnic diversity
Ethnic and cultural issues/implications
Advancements in technology and exposure to music television brought different cultures into the living rooms of this generation. Single-parent and blended families helped this generation understand that families come in all shapes and sizes. More inclusive of others and accepting of differences from themselves or their experiences, this generation is accepting and embracing of diversity.
Generational perspectives of the EAP
For this generation, EAPs have evolved toward work/life services. Companies adopted flexible work arrangements and work/life services to meet their needs. Generation X employees have responded overwhelmingly to flexible work arrangements when available. Primary reasons for adopting flexible work arrangements and other work/life programs, as reported by members of Generation X, are child care, continuing education, personal health, personal interest unrelated to family, desire to address overwork, and adult care responsibilities. Independent and practical, Generation X employees will look to what the EAP can do for them. Skill development and wellness seminars, work/life programs and workplace programs designed for flexibility will draw the attention of Gen X employees.
Common EAP issues
- One-income families with children
This generation has been much better than previous generations about saving money. Gen Xers have taken advantage of 401(k) accounts, beginning this investment much earlier in their work life, and they have not waited to put money aside for their children. For those parents determined to raise their children with less dependence on day care, many seek part-time employment, depend on extended family-assisted day care or stay at home, creating some drain on family finances. Although very good about managing money, savings inevitably is affected by having only one partner working full time.
- Child custody and support
Although the divorce rate for this generation is generally lower than national norms, overall the divorce rate is high and will continue to affect them. Unfortunately, as Generations X’s parents divorced at an astounding rate, divorce is viewed to be normal by many of this generation. Consequently, divorce and child custody will continue to be legal issues for this generation.
- Career vs. marriage and family
- Parenting roles
When Generation X entered the job market, many stressors on the economy limited job availability, affecting their ability to obtain meaningful work. Many of this generation were forced to return home at an age when independence would typically be the norm . Factors such as financial dependence on parents and generational expectations for women to work and contribute significantly to household income have narrowed choices for this generation when choosing to marry or begin a family. As career opportunities increased and this generation began to enter into meaningful work, as many as 43 percent were earning minimum wage and struggling to survive. For this generation, the age of marriage increased to an all-time high as people waited until their late 20s and early 30s.
Due to early development and parenting of Generation X children, defining parenting roles for themselves as distinctly different and more effective than the way they were raised has been a challenge. Creative strategies have been adopted by this generation to address their concerns. Using a mix of traditionalism and pragmatism, Generation X parents struggle to bring new meaning and balance to childrearing. Determined not to repeat the errors of their parents in childrearing and contradicting the popular saying “It take a village to raise a child,” Generation X parents, from early experience, emphasize that it takes parents to raise a child. Due to this heartfelt view of parental roles, some Generation X parents are choosing one parent to stay at home and raise their children or one parent working part time.
High expectations, changing courtship rituals and the evolution of the “urban tribe” phenomenon have elevated anxiety as a defining characteristic when it comes to relationships for Generation X. While collecting stories for her book Dating Disasters, Anna Warwick, 28, a Sydney, Australia, freelance writer, found that expectations and stereotypes have changed. As gender issues have become less pronounced, women have become more assertive and just as likely to make the first move, with men sometimes clingier and more often willing to commit. Career-minded people of this generation are more likely to find and receive emotional support from friends, than committed romantic relationships, hence the term “urban tribe.”
Due to economic conditions combined with the practical nature of this generation, some began to live together in group houses, others living nearby in neighborhoods, as well as working together, which provided support one traditionally obtains from an extended family. Due to frequent job changes, networks and friendships are more user-friendly and “portable” than serious sexual relationships.
- Smoking-related health issues
Although Gen X took their time to develop careers, delayed marriage and postponed having children, they are now buying homes and having children at a higher rate than ever. As of the year 1998, the birth rate had increased 2 percent, the first increase in birth rates in seven years. By the year 2000, close to two-thirds, or 65 percent, of women ages 25 to 34 had had children.
Smoking-related health issues also may begin to climb, as smoking rates for ages 25 to 44 years have the highest prevalence at 25.6 percent, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003. The smoking rate for men in this age group is 28.4 percent; for women it’s 22.8 percent.
Mental health issues
- Eating disorders
Depression and anxiety are issues for many of this generation due to the many stressors related to upbringing and social expectations. Divorce rates, which climbed quickly during their developmental years and on into young adulthood, have contributed to the incidence of depression among this group. Yet, delayed treatment for depression is not uncommon because divorce often is viewed as normal and there is fear of being viewed as weak and less competitive in the marketplace. Confusion and anxiety related to developing meaningful intimacy also are issues for this generation.
Eating disorders also affect this generation. Extreme thinness—now associated with success, achievement and class—is considered a plus, is reinforced by men of this generation and is associated with a women’s ability to contribute to the financial stability of the family.
Substance abuse issues
Binge drinking and drug experimentation behavior characteristic of young adults in their 20s is less prevalent among this generation as responsibilities of work and family appear to be factors in modifying drinking and drug-use behavior. Federal drug-free workplace rules and mandatory drug testing always have been present in the workplace for this group of employees. For members of this generation who have not “aged-out” of problem drinking and drug-use behaviors, legal and social ramifications of substance abuse and dependence are more likely to appear and be reflected in occupational problems, marital/relationship problems and potentially legal problems related to drunk driving. The continued use of marijuana often is identified during workplace drug screenings and results in earlier treatment intervention.