Once jokingly referred to as “America’s neglected middle child*” Gen X is positioned to be the big winner in the move to the new gig economy.
The strange part is hardly anyone seems to be talking about it. All the focus seems to be on Boomers (like me) who seem intent on never retiring or the Millennials who mastered the art of side gigs while still in College. Surely it is the Millennials, along with the shiny eyed Gen Zers who are already nipping at their heels, that will own the gig economy. How can those poor stuck in the middle Gen Xers hope to compete? Too young to know anything and too old to compete with the young tech entrepreneurs.
It might surprise you to know that people age 45-65 are twice as likely to be self employed than the 25-44 year olds. Now the 45-65 age group does include younger Boomers like myself, but the trend is undeniable. An increasing number of Gen Xers are self employed. Some of this results from downsizing, but it’s also true that many older workers are choosing to opt out of the corporate world.
Today I want to share with you five reasons Gen Xers are positioned to be the big winners in the new gig economy.
#1 Opportunities In The Gig Economy Are Not Created Equal
In the “fake it til you make it” world of social media, it’s easy to conclude that the masses of self-employed workers are living the dream. Free to control their own schedule, making big bucks, and best of all there is no boss to answer to.
In reality, many (most?) of these people are working long hours (so much for freedom), for low pay, and have traded one boss for many bosses. Try explaining to a client that you’re going to miss a deadline because you need time off to spend with the family. If you piss this client off you may not get paid. And if you don’t get paid you may not eat.
And for many freelancers things are going to get worse, not better. There are two big reasons. The first reason is automation. Machines are going to take away a lot of the work that is currently being contracted out. The second reason is we’re going to see a continued explosion in the number of freelancers providing specific types of skills. This will be fueled by more people opting into the gig economy and increased competition from global economies such as India and Africa.
The people that will benefit most from the gig economy are those whose skills and expertise cannot easily be replaced. When you think about it, this is no different that the traditional workplace most of started out in.
So why is this good news for Gen Xers? CNBC’s 2018 Global Leadership Forecast found that “Gen X now accounts for 51 percent of leadership roles globally. With an average of 20 years of workplace experience, they are primed to quickly assume nearly all top executive roles”.
The same thing is going to happen in the gig economy. Gen Xers are positioned to create businesses around their unique skills and knowledge. In fact I would argue that there has never been a better time for a Gen Xer to start this type of business
#2 Gen X Is The Most Connected Generation
You probably didn’t know that. I didn’t. As a boomer I often look with envy at my millennial children, and their peers. They make everything to do with technology look easy. I was surprised to learn that numerous studies by organizations like Neilsen show that Gen Xers actually spend more time on social media than millennials do. Another CNBC study showed that 54 percent of Gen X reported that they are digitally savvy compared to 56 percent of millennials. In other words, unlike many of us Boomers, Gen Xers are not intimidated by technology. And having been in leadership roles, Gen Xers are equally comfortable outsourcing technology based tasks. As an added bonus they are far less likely to get taken advantage of than we boomers.
The combination of advanced business knowledge with digital savviness creates a significant competitive advantage for Gen X entrepreneurs.
#3 They Can Learn From The Boomer Experience
Middle children learn by watching others. Gen Xers have also seen what the future looks like for many mid level executives in the corporate world, and it ain’t pretty. In fact, if Corporate America had set out to prove to Gen X leaders that age is a liability in terms of employment, then they did an excellent job. Words like “downsizing” and “redundancy” are not far from front of mind for any employee over the age of 45. There was a time when there wasn’t much that a person could do, other than to keep an updated resume handy. This is no longer true. People no longer have to wait for the axe to fall. Smart Gen Xers are taking control of their own future and putting plans in place to transition to self employment. This is a lot easier to do when you’re still drawing a paycheck.
# 4 Willingness to Invest in Themselves
I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but in my experience Gen Xers are far more willing than millennials to pay someone to learn what they don’t know. I think it’s because they’ve reached a point in life where they value time more than money. Rather than investing a lot of time in trying to figure out what they don’t know, wise Gen Xers look for people who have done what they want to do, and ask for help.
# 5 Flexibility and Health
This is just a stage of life issue. Starting your own gig takes time and energy. For most of us, parenting is the most important job we will ever do. And as we all know the job never ends. But it does change, and as our children get older we gain more flexibility in terms of time. When my kids were young, out of town travel always left me conflicted. I enjoyed the experience and understood the trade offs, but it didn’t make it any easier. Gen Xers are coming into that stage of life when they will have more flexibility to work on the things they really care about, and perhaps have a few less aches and pains then us boomers!
Writing this article felt good. It has been widely believed that Gen X was getting the short end of the stick. I suppose for some that will still be the case, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your time has come Gen X. Are you ready to take control of your own future?
Tim Alison advises and mentors experienced entrepreneurs on how to create and scale a business around a unique idea or skill. He also hosts the globally recognized Screw the Naysayers Podcast . You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.screwthenaysayers.com.