Dear GenXers

Posted on Tue Apr 06, 2021

Hey GenXer, I know you've always felt ignored, but what you do next will change the trajectory of work in the US for generations!

If you're not a GenX (54-34 years old) I still have things you need to hear, but I need to speak directly to the GenXers for a second. It's a little long, but most good letters are! 

Dearest Middle Child,

What you do next in how you "return" to work is about to be vital. I know you because I am you. You're doing to do what has to be done to make sure that you continued to get paid. I saw you take on the work of two/ three employees in the Great Recession just so you wouldn't get fired, and you worked your finger to the bone. You took working 24/7 to a whole other level, and not because that was the life you wanted. ALL of the future workers really need you to take a stand and be brave now because you are powerful enough (as in necessary enough) to get some changes to the workplace made that will impact generations. But you MUST be brave. 

The biggest task you have is asking for flexibility to work from home. Yes, I know the version you have gotten for the past 6+ weeks is NOT the version that you wanted (what with the children, animals, and other constant distractions), but LOOK at what you did! Even with insane levels of distractions you still got your stuff done and didn't miss a beat! Imagine what it could be like if those distractions weren't there. If you weren't having to take a break every 20 minutes to make someone a sandwich or help set up a kid on a zoom with their teacher. What if you could KEEP the advantages of being able to get to work whenever you woke up? At whatever time your brain was working best you could hit your stride. You could go take that walk around the neighborhood for your sanity and take better care of yourself. You could save all that money and time on your commute. You could keep some semblance of control over WHEN you got things done while still GETTING THINGS DONE.

This will come down to YOUR GENERATION STAYING FIRM and asking for some version of Work From Home that is appropriate for your type of work. I get that military defense can't do this, you're dealing with government secrets and security, but anyone who works in this KNEW that when they took the job. An accountant, a customer service rep, a supply chain employee, they don't NEED to be in that office. They've proven it for 6+ straight weeks. Perhaps you can talk about Core Hours (click here to read more abut that) or alternating "shifts" and days, even for office workers? Putting the focus on PRODUCTION and not HOURS will be key (again assuming you don't do contract work where they bill by hour and audit those hours). This will all come down to you staying firm and not folding under the pressure like we have a tendency to do. 

Based on my research during this quarantine, there is a very good shot that many Baby Boomers will want to return to 5-days in the office. This really comes down to patterns and social needs less than control. Boomers have been in offices for most of their life and many (not all!) want to return to their daily patterns which became more and more entrenched over time. They are also far more social than latch-key kid GenXers and get the majority of their human/friend interaction through the office as was encouraged in their early years in the office. So there is a good shot that if you have a Boomer heavy-leadership they will want to return to "business as usual", but the fact is that since the Pandemic we can never completely return to the way it was before.

Employees, especially the Millennials who are UNAFRAID to take a stand and who you HAVE to attract and retain in order to have sustainability in your company,  are not going to want to go back into an office where they feel like they're being constantly "watched and forced to fake work even though they've completed their tasks" (yep, direct quote!). But the fact is that Millennials still have a higher "disposability" factor than you GenXers do, and leadership are far more likely to listen to YOU than anyone under 30 that is for sure. This will mean you'll have to not just say "ok I'll do whatever you want just don't fire me" if we want this pivot to be long-standing. GenXers have never been MORE crucial to the workplace than they are now! 

The second task you will need to push back on is clothing policies. Seriously folks, many of you just got MORE work done in your pajamas than you have EVER EVER completed in your suit. Millennials have been pushing back on this for a while and I can bet you now that if they DO make them come back into the office there's going to be a clothing SHOW DOWN. Why? Because it's never been about the clothes that we  wear. That was a norm from the Military and WWII. There are definitely appropriateness and safety levels I'm sure we will have to examine, but I think the says of super-strict policies could be come a thing of the past, but ONLY if you don't cave. 

I know it's against our "middle child don't rock the boat" mindset, but if we don't put our foot down many of the lessons from "THE GREAT PAUSE" will be buried. 

If either of these are things you feel passionately about then please, talk to your leadership teams (especially if you are the leadership team) about what changes need to be made. If you want to attract and retain rockstar Millennials then these two "benefits" that cost you VERY VERY LITTLE (or nothing) are a very smart way to do it! 

Let me know how it goes!