Confessions of a Gen X Manager

Lately at speaking events I’ve been hearing some complaints from Millennials about their Gen X bosses. Because Gen Xers are only a few years older than Millennials, the younger group is often surprised that members of the older cohort — my contemporaries — aren’t always as supportive and attentive as millennials might want or expect. While this post only represents the views of one Gen X manager, you might find them valuable in understanding my fellow latchkey kid leaders.

Here goes:

Hi, I’m Lindsey, and I’m a Gen X manager.

I don’t want to go to Chipotle with you, because I like — no, I love — to eat at my desk. (In fact I’m doing it now while I write this blog post.)

I know you don’t like micromanagers (who does?) but I’m probably going to check in on you way more than you want anyway, because I like to know everything that is going on and anticipate problems before they occur. I like to plan ahead and I despise surprises.

My favorite form of communication is email, because, well… see above.

This is only a sample, but you can see that Gen X managers are a tough bunch, and here’s where I think our mindset originates: We are a smaller generation sandwiched between two bigger-than-life, optimistic gregarious groups — the baby boomers and the millennials. Compared to these mega-generations, we are the odd men and women out. We grew up in the tough economic times of the 1970s and early 80s. We are the children of the 50 percent divorce rate, the Challenger explosion and missing children displayed on our milk cartons. We came up the ranks in a baby boomer dominated workplace and are now facing a new era of millennial dominance. (According to Pew, Gen X was the majority of the U.S. workforce for about 18 months, but it seems no one bothered to tell us.)

Naturally, Gen Xers are not all the same, but if you have a Gen X manager, there may be some style traits you’ve noticed that are similar to mine. The question is, what can you do about them? How do you best work with a Gen X manager like me?

Gen X Manager Confession #1: We can lean toward micromanaging.

We don’t mean to bug you, and it’s not that we don’t trust you, but we tend to fret about every detail and just really, really (really!) want to make sure everything is getting done.

How you can help us out:

When you confirm little deadlines and keep us in the loop with regular updates on anything and everything, we breathe so much easier. We like when you acknowledge you received an assignment, and we really like when you confirm something in email that we discussed in person. We can’t help it; we love having things in writing. Humor us by over-communicating and thinking two steps ahead of us, and fill us in on details along the way. When you meet our need for information, we’ll eventually back off because we will trust that you’re on it.

Gen X Manager Confession #2: We love our solitude.

It’s not that we don’t want to chat with you; we just don’t want to be surprised by your visit — not fans of the drop-by, us Gen Xers. Don’t take it personally if we don’t want to go out to grab coffee; we tend to be protective of our time, and we have it all mapped out. The last-minute invitation or pop-by derails our schedule and sends us off course.

How you can help us out:

We do want to meet with you, but please, just ask. Schedule a time so we can be prepared and give you our full attention.

Gen X Manager Confession #3: We like to communicate a certain way.

I’d be willing to bet that 90% of Gen X managers prefer email, but I won’t speak for all of us. If I email someone and they call me back, I’m completely thrown because they’ve forced me out of my preferred communication format. Even a text, though it’s still written communication, surprises me if it’s in response to an email.

How you can help us out:

Take cues from your boss: They will show you how they want you to communicate. Until you’re the boss, you have to adapt to their tone and preferred method. (When you’re the boss, people will adapt to you!) But for now, play into their needs and email, email, email if that’s their style.

Gen X Manager Confession #4: We love deadlines.

We take very deadlines and timelines very seriously and want to know that you do, too. For us, a deadline is not a suggestion but a promise. This goes for meetings, too — start and end times are set in stone.

How you can help us out:

When we plan to meet at 7:30, we start fretting that you’ve forgotten around 7:25. One of my favorite adages is, “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late.” This goes for deadlines as well. Nothing impresses a Gen X boss more than over-delivering by beating a deadline we’ve set.

This doesn’t mean we are tyrants, though. If you’re going to be late to a meeting, or miss a deadline on a project, just let us know as early as possible so we can be prepared. And — I assume by now this goes without saying — the best way to tell us is by email.

Your turn! What pet peeves or questions do you have about your Gen X manager? And Gen X managers, what have I gotten wrong or forgotten? I’d love to hear below!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

Share this post

hi, i'm lindsey!

Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


Learn 25 Practical Ways to Manage Across Generations