Gray ceiling disrupts succession plans for Gen Xers

     While some organizations are focusing on recruiting new and replacement workers, many others are urging and enticing older workers to stay longer. This is creating a new form of discrimination called the “gray ceiling.”  Unlike the more common cases involving discrimination such as gender, age, and sexual preference, the gray ceiling isn’t necessarilty protecting a protected class. The implications for ignoring the gray ceiling won’t likely result in an employee filing a discrimination claim. But this isn’t necessarily a time to celebrate.  The consequences may be much worse!

     Generation X, the former youngest generation in the workplace, are now the middle children at work.  They’ve been patiently – or at least reluctantly – waiting for a boomer to get out of the way so they can finally move up the career ladder.  But those aging, baby boomers just don’t seem to want to move on with their lives.  Whether it’s their workaholic nature or the need for money, they are not leaving the workplace as quickly as anticipated.

     While that might generate a sigh of relief for many executives and business owners, I’ll suggest you take a deep breath and …..ponder this.


     The most highly skilled Generation X workers are no longer waiting around.  They are leaving the workforce in record numbers. Their skill sets make them hot property. Their age (roughly late 20s to early 40s) offers another organization immediate talent and future capacity.

This exodus of Gen X skilled workers is not only the fault of gray-haired boomers staying longer.  It’s also the result of the newest generation, the Millennials, arriving on the scene.  Bright, ambitious, collaborative and technically advanced, this youngest cohort is catching the eye of the workplace elders and the wrath of the Xers. In fact, it’s not the Boomers who are complaining the most of these “irritating rug rats.”  It’s the Xers!


     What is beginning to happen in many workplaces is that the Millennials are leapfrogging the Xers into lead roles and projects.  Even more insulting, Millennials are like heat seeking missiles for knowledge.  Why waste no time going to his or her Gen X boss when they have a question.  They just go straight to the best source by sending an email or knocking on the door of the President.  This group is used to quick access to information. Why go to the library and borrow the book when you can "google" just about anything?  Playing politics to them is just like playing games.  You outmaneuver your opponents to get to the next level.  Gen Xers are just another level on the way to the top and these game-playing Millennials are smart and savvy. 


     The Xers, on the other hand, are restless and aren’t taking this lying down. Remember these kids grew up with latch-keys and learned to fend for themselves.  Ignore them and they’ll go away without anyone really noticing.  But when the boomers finally do decide to call it a career, a gaping talent hole will be discovered by those businesses who don’t consider the consequences and don’t plan ahead.

     Succession used to be so much easier!  What’s a business to do? 

1.  First things first.   Assess the demography of your workforce today. How many older workers are just biding time until retirement?  How soon will be they leaving?  Who is in line to replace them?  How many younger workers are at risk to be picked off by a competitor?

2. What is the capability of the younger workers?  Will they be prepared to move up into management and leadership position when the time comes?  What additional training will they need?

3. How prepared are your managers to deal with the wants and demands of four generations working side-by-side?  How prepared is your organization to squelch the workplace warfare between the Geeks, Geezers and other generations? What can you do to slow the boomer brain drain, retain the Gen Xers and recruit the Millennials all at the same time?


Ira S Wolfe


  1. Ira S Wolfe November 24, 2010 at 1:30 pm -

    Janie – thanks for commenting. What is the myth about Generation X?

  2. Janie November 24, 2010 at 9:49 am -

    generation X workers…in present days, isn’t that kind of a myth ? I mean sure there are a lot of essential hard working guys but I’d say like 1 in 15. But I’m just speculating now, correct me if I’m wrong…

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