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Gen Xers Overlooked for Job Promotions

Data show generations of boomers and millennials climb the ranks faster at work

Intergenerational workplace

Cavan/Getty Images

En español | At a time when members of Generation X should be in the peak stage of their careers and advancing rapidly, new data show they are being overlooked for promotions at higher rates than their counterparts in other generations.

In the past five years, 66 percent of Gen X leaders received only one promotion or none at all. But 58 percent of boomers, by contrast, were likely to have received two or more promotions during the same period.

Gen Xers, on average, received only 1.2 promotions in the past five years with their company, compared with an average of 1.6 for millennials and 1.4 promotions for boomers, according to data from 25,000 leaders across industries and regions collected by Development Dimensions International (DDI), the Conference Board and Ernst & Young.

Stephanie Neal, director of the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research at leadership consulting firm DDI, suggested that Gen Xers’ “unambitious reputation may be holding them back in the workplace” — making them the “leapfrog” generation — although, like other generations before them, they have adopted a stronger affiliation for stability and tradition as they’ve aged and had children.

Millennials on track to be biggest generation

In 2018, about a half million more baby boomers were alive than millennials, but because baby boomers are older and dying at greater rates, millennials are expected to become the dominant generation sometime in 2019.

chart of the populations of each generation


Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Neal observed that Gen Xers may also be getting short shrift because boomers are delaying retirement due to money concerns and the ever-increasing cost of health care.

Older workers are not only holding onto their jobs for longer but are still trying to advance themselves into higher-paying positions, she said.

At the same time, millennials are looking to make up for lost time and earn more money after a sluggish start to their careers during the financial crisis. What’s more, companies are carefully studying ways to foster millennial employees in a culture where work habits and rules of behavior are changing, she said.

Neal said there appears to be growing frustration among Gen X leaders, “with 40 percent saying that they are contemplating leaving to advance their careers.” Additionally, 18 percent indicated that their desire to leave their position has grown in the past year, a significantly higher proportion than among boomers and millennials.