Skip to content Skip to footer

When you lose the Xers …

I saw an article earlier today about ageism at work in which the author spoke about how companies lose that built-in wisdom and know-how when it leans favorably toward hiring younger workers over older workers.

I agree.

Though I’d add the problem is equally, if not more so, generational.

As companies bring on more Millennials, who are great on teams, wanting very much to succeed and rank up (they’re a rank-and-file generation) and liking of efficiency; and as they’re not hiring as many GenXers, who are a bottom-line, get-it-done, figure-it-out generation, the costs to businesses are significant.

Millennials are a take-few-risks generation. They don’t move as independently or confidently through chaos and difficulties as GenXers do. (Every and any GenXer will attest to this truth.) Millennials will have more collective power and will change the workplace to align with their natural skills and preferences as they become more and more of the nation’s midlife leaders in a decade or so, but they are not as comfortable in taking on The Unknown, figuring stuff out, taking risks and accomplishing the mission as Xers are. Not by a long shot.

Part of the ageism-at-work problem is related to having fewer people with experience around. For sure and by dint of years lived, Xers, currently 43-63 in 2024, have more experience. They’ve made more mistakes, had more wins and learned some hard lessons along the way. But it’s more than experience and wisdom that’s the issue; it’s attitude.

Most Millennials have experienced most of their careers with mostly Xer (and some Boomer) managers. GenXers are the ultimate generals in a battlefield: Assess the risks, figure out how to make the best of a situation with limited resources, and accomplish the mission, no matter what.

Xers may not be the friendliest and chummiest of managers (something Millennials value and want), but they get stuff done! They solve problems you didn’t even know you had. They make miracles possible when the odds stacked against you are high, resources are limited and the future seems bleak. That’s where Xers shine!

Remove or hire less often GenXers and you start to lose that scrappy, ultra-pragmatic, results-focused capacity inside an organization.

And that, I offer, is the real issue with “ageism” in its current form.

Can your organization survive and navigate the tumultuous waters, now and into the future, with a mostly Millennial team? You may have to find out the hard way.

As my Xer friend Steve Barrera reminds me, “I get why companies would want to hire young. It’s not just that less experienced workers cost less; there is a risk in having a labor force that’s skewed older, in that all your institutional knowledge is invested in people who are close to leaving the workforce. You need new blood to stay vital as an institution. Really, the lesson I see here is that you need to connect people of different ages (or generations) to ensure that the expertise persists over time. You need that generational diversity!”

And I agree with Steve, too


George Washington, the ultimate general taking his troops through perilous challenges, was a member of the same nomad-like generation as today’s Xers.

Leave a comment