The NeXt Revolution by Charlotte Shelton Book Summary

The NeXt Revolution, What Gen X Women Want at Work and How Their Boomer Bosses Can Help Them Get It by Charlotte Shelton and Laura Shelton


To the members of Generation X, success doesn’t necessarily mean accumulating power or calling every shot. So-called “Xers” tend to seek a sensible balance between their work and personal lives. Companies interested in 21st century competitiveness must provide that balance, according to a survey of 1,200 Gen Xers. Baby Boomer Charlotte Shelton and her Xer daughter Laura Shelton examine the attitudes of Gen X professional women as they look to the future. getAbstract recommends this as a heads-up for Boomer-age leaders and their Gen X colleagues. Now is the time to think about the work environment you must create to recruit and retain young talent. And if you are an up-and-coming Xer, now is the time to decide what you want to up-and-come to.


  • More and more Generation X women are “opting out” of corporate life to raise children and start their own businesses.
  • Gen X women watched their Baby Boomer mothers juggle work and home. They’re not sure they want to live on that same treadmill.
  • As Boomers retire, the job market won’t have enough Gen X job candidates.
  • Companies that focus on gender diversity will have more candidates, especially for management positions.
  • Female managers prefer collaboration to competition. They empower others, communicate well, and generally are more responsive to potential problems.
  • Gen Xers want schedule flexibility, opportunities to advance and work that matters.
  • To win their loyalty, offer those perks: autonomy, growth and meaningful, varied work.
  • To manage Gen Xers, use intuition, intentionality and quantum thinking. Be positive, communicative, trusting, responsible and connected.
  • Many Generation Xers suffer a “quarterlife crisis” in their 20s.
  • To control their own careers, Gen Xers can change jobs, open businesses, advocate for change or transform themselves.
The NeXt Revolution Book Cover

The NeXt Revolution Book Summary

Generation X

The moniker “Generation X” seems to have entered popular culture as a result of Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. These short stories painted American young people at the time as disengaged, disgruntled with traditional work and family values, generally well educated, and yet too restless to stick with one career. Ronald Reagan and MTV shaped Gen Xers, who were born between 1964 and 1977. Their predecessors include the Baby Boomers, who grew up during the Civil Rights and women’s lib movements, the Cold War and Vietnam, and the earlier “Traditionalists,” shaped by WWII and the U.S. economic expansion.

“Younger workers are taking a hard look at two-hour commutes, formal business attire, the glare of fluorescent lights, 60-plus-hour workweeks…they’re realizing this isn’t how they want to spend their lives.”

Perhaps because of their parents’ hopefulness, Gen Xers grew up believing that nothing was impossible. But when their perfect jobs never quite materialized, corporate politics disappointed them or career success didn’t bring them fulfillment, Xers grew skeptical and disillusioned.

Female Gen Xers faced an additional hurdle. Despite decades of advocacy for equal rights for women, ample evidence shows that the “good old boy” bias is still very much in place in corporate life. Women are not equally represented in business, though they earn the majority of college degrees. At the upper echelons of corporate life, women make up only 16% of the workforce. Women still do not get paid equally. In the U.S., for every dollar paid to men, women are paid 77 cents. Men earn more even in careers that are traditionally the domain of women. For instance, 98% of preschool teachers are women, but on average females earn an annual $17,000 and males earn $22,000. In technology, finance and other major market sectors, men still far outnumber women. However, research proves that firms with more females in executive positions are more profitable. Women managers are shown to be more compassionate, communicative, tolerant and collaborative.

“The next generation is looking for a dramatically different kind of organization – one that will help them strike a better work-life balance.”

Both men and women now work more hours per week on average than ever before in U.S. history. Americans spend more time on the job than workers in other countries, because work forms such a large part of their identities. With less time for family life, they find balanced lives even more difficult to attain. Statistics confirm that women in high-powered careers often forego having children. However, women who devote themselves to children and work have no time for anything else. Gen X women entering the workforce are realizing that career success demands sacrifices that they may not find worthwhile. They are searching for more balance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of mothers in the workplace dropped from 59% in 1997 to 53% in 2000, reflecting a quickly evolving trend. Yet, many women must earn a living, and thus cannot join this apparent trend back toward traditional wife and mother roles.

“The values of 21st century organizations are still primarily white male values – power, control and status.”

For many, “juggle and struggle,” is the only option, even though it leaves many women feeling as if they are handling neither career nor home life particularly well. Gen X women want meaningful jobs that start at 9 a.m and end at 3 p.m., freeing them to be moms after school. They shun the stress from high-power careers that spill over into nights and weekends. Despite some concrete progress in corporate life, such as flex time and telecommuting, more women who can afford it are “opting out” of the world of work.

“Quarterlife Crisis”

Everyone’s heard of “midlife crisis,” but many Generation Xers suffer a “quarterlife crisis.” Often these highly motivated 20-somethings have already been through downsizing, slow advancement or a failed marriage. Somewhere around age 30, they begin to wonder if the relentless pursuit of success is all it’s cracked up to be. At this juncture, many of them go back to school, return to their parents’ homes and rethink their priorities.

“Interestingly, these values are not only unattractive to our daughters, they are increasingly frustrating to Gen X males as well.”

Frequently, graduates find themselves deep in college-tuition debt and a ridiculous amount of credit card debt – averaging $10,000 to $12,000 each. Many of these young professionals seem destined for an economic crash, yet they are not great savers. Experts predict that Gen Xers will have less money than their parents, given inevitably higher costs and the additional burden of supporting the retiring Boomers. On top of this, the U.S. faces growing debt. One study says Gen Xers believe they’re likelier to see a flying saucer than to get their rightful Social Security benefits.

What Xers Want

A survey asked 1,200 Gen Xers what mattered most to them at work. Both men and women prioritized relationships with their bosses and peers, as well as “interesting work” with lots of “learning opportunities.” Accolades and “status” at work ranked last. Perhaps relationships are so important because many Gen Xers come from divorced families. They require stimulation and are likely to leave jobs that do not provide it.

“The number of available workers will decrease…the percentage of the labor force that has been to college will remain…60%. The result will be an unprecedented mismatch between the workforce and the demands of a high-tech economy.”

Boomers, who appreciate the trappings of status, head most organizations. Their companies are likely to be organized to reflect a corporate value system, offering lofty titles and better offices as incentives for harder work. Yet, these rewards mean very little to Gen Xers. Salary is not as crucial to them as it is to Boomers. Gen Xers see money as a means to an end; it’s necessary for living, but they prioritize living itself. Because relationships are so important to Xers, they are more apt than their Boomer parents to value quality time with their families.

“As Xers begin to live the partnership model and disseminate stories of workplace success, they will raise corporate consciousness.”

The same survey measured the gap Gen Xers perceive between what they wanted and what they actually found at work. Their expectations of “opportunities for advancement” exceeded their experiences. Maybe their goals were unrealistically high, but many Xers also happened to enter the workforce just as the U.S. economy contracted. Not only did they find fewer opportunities to advance, they found fewer jobs, period. And the entry-level positions they could get often soured them on work and curbed their enthusiasm. Gen Xers, especially female Xers, often search for a larger purpose in their work. Gen X men tend to feel their creative contributions are undervalued.

The “NeXt” Workplace

As Boomers retire, companies will need to replace them with Gen X workers who are much less likely to be happy in traditional workplaces. And they are a smaller labor pool, so you need to nurture them. If you begin to think your Gen X employees are just too demanding, you might be overlooking some of the assets they bring your firm. The weight that they place on relationships, interesting work and learning offers clues to ways you can add to their sense of job satisfaction. Perhaps the single best way to keep Xers is to foster good relationships between them and their supervisors. Encourage a less rigid environment for communication, allowing employees to speak openly with anyone in the firm without regard to hierarchy. Bosses who lead by example earn Xers’ respect. Continuous feedback matters; mere yearly reviews are insufficient.

“Fundamentally, organizations must change who they are and how they do business.”

The easiest way to keep Gen X workers engaged is to keep the workplace fun. Try after-hours get-togethers and lunch meetings. A policy as simple as giving employees the latitude to wear whatever they like to work lightens their load. In general, Xers respond favorably to freedom. If you give them scheduling flexibility and real authority commensurate with their responsibilities, they will usually rise to the occasion. At the accounting firm Plante & Moran, for example, pregnant women who are about to go on maternity leave work out a plan to transfer their clients to other employees. They also develop a parallel plan for re-entering the company when they’re ready. The firm advises people generally to “underschedule” themselves. As a result of these and other “X-Friendly” policies, Plante & Moran has an incredibly low turnover rate. You can use a variety of tactics to make working for you more interesting for your employees. For example, the TGI Fridays restaurant chain offers a “Passport Program” that gives high-performing employees the opportunity to work at any of its locations worldwide.

Four Ways to Create Workplace Change

Gen Xers can follow four personal or corporate paths toward fulfilling careers:

  1. Get a new job – Many big established corporations are set in their ways and subscribe to the success dogma of an earlier era. Some, however, are bright stars, committed to changing into organizations that are relevant in the 21st century. By and large, smaller firms with fewer than 100 employees (98% of all U.S. companies) are really pioneering the new workplace. When you consider joining a firm, ask about flexible scheduling, diverse responsibilities and open lines of communication.
  2. Open your own business – In the last decade, the number of businesses owned by women has swelled more than 100%. In the old days, women going into business found it very difficult to find the funding they needed, but now capital is more available to them. Alternatively, many women pursue their entrepreneurial ideas while holding onto their day jobs. About 20% of all U.S. “small business owners” are Gen Xers. Surveys show that they would rather own their own businesses than run big corporations or even be elected to political office. “Mom-preneurs,” a growing segment of small business owners, are driven by the need for income, flexible schedules and proximity to their homes.
  3. Be an advocate at work – Support more employee-friendly policies at your current company. Be an activist in favor of openness to diverse points of view. Try to get the company to address problems by discussing solutions that benefit everyone involved.
  4. Transform your approach – Find a need in your company that’s not being met and give yourself the job of filling it. Keep asking for projects and responsibilities that intrigue you, and keep learning new ways to improve. Take your career success into your own hands by establishing long- and short-term work and personal goals.

“Leaders must shift their focus from playing games of power and politics to creating cultures of sanity and satisfaction. In the meantime, leaders will continue to see a brain drain of their best and brightest young moms.”

If you are an Xer who wants to manage your own career, it helps to develop some of the traits of “emotional intelligence,” such as being more aware of your feelings and the feelings of others, and planning strategies to handle those emotions. Cultivating the ability to appraise yourself and offer compassion to others will season you and help you create the life you want. If you have emotional concerns to sort out, determine if therapy would be helpful. Also consider meditation and other spiritual practices that can help reinforce a more optimistic, positive attitude.

Packing Your Revolutionary Toolkit

To create “X-friendly” workplaces, managers need new people skills, including:

  • Seeing “intentionally” – Focusing on your intentions will help you reach your goals even if the nuts and bolts of how that will happen are initially unclear. Clarify what means the most to you and set priorities, so you can create a “vision statement” that reflects your highest professional and personal intentions. Renew it often.
  • Using “quantum thinking” – Allow your thinking to be flexible and don’t run away from contradictions. You are seeking solutions that solve several problems at once. Keep in mind the paradoxical truth that companies which prioritize people’s needs actually earn greater profits.
  • “Feeling vitally alive” – Harboring upbeat feelings, such as gratitude, forgiveness and compassion, affects you physically in a positive way, while negative feelings generate the wrong kind of physical energy. Focusing on good feelings and attitudes tends to cause the negative to fade into the background.
  • Knowing “intuitively” – Sometimes your gut knows better than your intellect. At least attend to what it’s trying to tell you. Create quiet times in your routine when you can really tune into your intuitive thoughts and understandings.
  • Practicing “moral jogging” – Ask yourself what outcome your actions will cause. Are you willing to be responsible for all the results of what you do? Life will constantly reflect the consequences of your decisions back to you. Use this feedback to fine-tune your actions. Jog your moral conscience into alertness by doing something for others.
  • Being “in relationship” – Maintain your links to those around you, even those with perspectives that conflict with your point of view. Often, the people and situations that annoy you are merely reflections of issues within you that still require your attention.
  • Learning to “trust life” – Working for change can be scary, especially when change means looking inward. In these moments, be trusting, to view yourself as an important part of a greater whole. Have faith and be optimistic; you are making constant progress.

About the Authors

Charlotte Shelton

Charlotte Shelton is an experienced consultant, coach and teacher. Her earlier book is Quantum Leaps: 7 Skills for Workplace Recreation. Her daughter, Laura Shelton, is a Fox television news reporter, and a contributor to several television programs.