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The Pandemic Has Hit Gen X Hard. Why Are Companies Overlooking This Pipeline of Talent?

Words by Leon Kaye
Gen X

While companies (and the public relations agencies promoting them) are once again ramping up their communications on how they can appeal to current and potential millennial and Gen Z employees, Gen X has been taking it on the chin, and being hit hard, over the past 18 months.

A recent report from Generation, a nonprofit that works with educators and employers to expand access to job opportunities while taking on youth unemployment, suggests that workers aged 45 to 60 worldwide have felt the harshest effects of COVID-19’s impact on the global economy. They may not feel their careers are ready to sunset, but the message they are getting from employers is that dusk has long passed on their job prospects.

Generation surveyed around 3,800 people across seven countries, ages 18 to 60, along with close to 1,500 hiring managers during the spring. The findings aren’t pretty for the generation that was rocked by the early 1990s recession, got hit again by the double-whammy of the dot-com bubble burst and 9/11, and then found themselves reeling yet again during the home foreclosure fiasco and global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Now, as they feel the pressure to save for retirement, much of this news will come across as grim and grimmer.

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“In every country we surveyed, the experience of looking for work is harder for 45+ individuals than other age groups, and they typically find themselves unemployed significantly longer than those who are younger,” the study’s authors wrote.

As anyone over the age of 40 can tell you, finding that next job feels like being stuck on the proverbial hamster wheel. Never mind the fact that in 2021, if someone in their 40s is in good health, they still have a good 25 to even 35 working years left in them. Still, getting the time of day from a human resources professional, recruiter or hiring manager is often challenging.

More than 70 percent of workers 45 and older who participated in the survey felt their age factored against them when it came time to find a new job.

And no wonder: When the 45-plus crowd was compared to those 18 to 34 and 35 to 44, Generation’s survey of hiring managers found results, or shall we say an attitude, that blares two words no one wants to hear: age discrimination. Compared to the two younger age groups, Gen X is viewed as less prepared, less experienced and less fit for the jobs that companies are currently posting.

In fairness, each generation faces challenges, and some hurdles that workers of any age may perceive can come from within: For example, almost 60 percent of the Gen X crowd who Generation surveyed said they were resistant to new training. Nevertheless, that still leaves more than 40 percent who are eager to start afresh. Further, some of that resistance could come from the reality that they are either unaware of, or believe they are not eligible for, such training. Government incentives could offer a lift, especially when considering any subsidies allotted for the hiring of reskilled workers will eventually be paid back, and more, by future income taxes.

Among the countries featured in Generation’s research, Singapore, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and India were home to hiring managers who, at a rate of at least 40 percent, said subsidized wages of some sort would encourage them to review their hiring practices. Hiring managers in the two other countries in the study, the U.S. and Brazil, were far less open to such a suggestion, which suggests entrenched attitudes will be hard to overcome if Gen X workers are to feel they have a stake and are valued in today’s economy.

“Hearing employers that have hired job-seekers aged 45 and above say that those workers tend to outperform their younger counterparts is encouraging, but also accentuates the tragedy of today’s employment landscape,” Generation's CEO Mona Mourshed said in a public statement. “We hope this new research spurs governments and employers alike to take steps to counter rampant ageism and to include this forgotten age-group in their recovery efforts.”

Generation suggests a complete rethink coming from both the private and public sectors is necessary for improving the long-term job prospects of Gen X. To start, the report’s authors suggest improved government statistics with narrower age brackets in order to shine more light on the job struggles the 45-and-over crowd find. Further, organizations can do more to link training programs directly to new job opportunities, and even provide financial assistance, to Gen X workers who might be skittish to take on new training courses. Finally, companies can reset their hiring practices and find ways to transition current employees who happen to be 45 into new roles, instead of the conventional approach, which has been to simply recruit new hires.

Image credit: Jamie Street/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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