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Why Aren't Gen Xers Getting Promoted?

I ran across a Harvard Business Review article this week about how Gen Xers (folks born between 1965-1980) aren't getting promoted at the same rates as Millennials and Baby Boomers and how companies will face significant retention challenges as a result.

While I tend to be skeptical of overarching statements describing entire generations, I was interested in the data behind these conclusions.

The first thing that struck me is how often my career coaching clients express a similar concern of feeling overlooked. They feel that their previous success—which they achieved by putting their heads down and working hard—is no longer being noticed or rewarded.

The data supports this feeling:

Currently, only 58 percent of Gen Xers feel that they are advancing within their organization at an acceptable rate compared with 65 percent of Millennials. While Gen X has been loyal until now, this frustration is approaching a breaking point.

I believe many Gen Xers have been comfortable working hard at the same place for a while because they have responsibilities to their families and other commitments they need to fulfill. However, many of them are reaching a point and questioning what all their hard work is for. If they're not appreciated or contributing to something that gets them excited, what's the point?

One assertion in the article I do take issue with is this:

"... [Gen Xers'] unambitious reputation may be holding them back in the workplace, as new data reveals Gen X to be the 'leapfrog' generation, overlooked for promotions at higher rates than their counterparts in other generations."

I wonder whether many Gen Xers really want to be ambitious—especially when so many of them question the ethics of the companies they've been loyal to for years. If Gen Xers have realized these companies are making questionable decisions and contributing to problems like climate change and economic disparities, then why be ambitious?

Why bother climbing the ladder of leadership only to be saddled with decisions that might negatively impact their children's future?

I suspect a lot of Gen Xers feel stuck. Between houses and kids and retirement funds, they have financial obligations to fulfill. They've invested time building their careers. Plus, they're getting older and are afraid they won't be attractive candidates for other opportunities as a result. They know their careers aren't going to end the way their parents' did, and they feel a pull from within to chart a different course for themselves.

This place of feeling stuck is overwhelming—the risk of leaving feels too great. And many people don't have clarity on what a new path looks like, or even how to find it.

My role as a coach is to help my clients find that new path (or set of paths). We work together to clarify what really matters to them and then build a career search around those priorities.

As a generation, Gen Xers might be charting a new path on what work can look like in the future.

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