BY AINSLEY CARRY AND BRIAN O. HEMPHILL
With every generation, a new group of student affairs professionals in their early 30s and 40s rises to the rank of senior student affairs officer (SSAO). While this accom- plishment is not unusual, the generational characteristics that define each group and how these characteristics impact group members’ approach to work, leadership,
management, and relationships is unique. This article offers a recap of a recent panel discussion at the
2010 NASPA Annual Conference led by members of Generation X (Gen Xers) who are currently SSAOs.
Who Are Gen Xers?
Generational experts describe Gen Xers as particularly difficult to characterize because they are members of one of
the most diverse and multi-ethnic groups of individuals to
encompass a generation. Gen Xers were born between 1965
and 1980. Overall, they are better educated than the Baby
Boomer generation that precedes them. More than 60 percent
of Gen Xers attended college, and many were raised in dual-income families. Many Gen Xers are children of divorce. All
of these factors contribute to their independence, resourcefulness, resilience, self sufficiency, and adaptability.
In the workplace, Gen Xers value freedom and responsibility. They dislike being micro-managed and operating within
rigid work requirements. They embrace a hands-off management philosophy and appreciate immediate and ongoing
feedback; they do not mind giving feedback to others.
The majority of Gen Xers’ parents worked outside of the
home. They grew up watching their parents lose jobs or face
constant job insecurity. By the time they entered the work-
force in the early 1980s the economy was in a downturn,
and they began redefining the meaning of “company loyalty.”
Rather than remaining loyal to a single company, they are
more committed to their professional development, to the
team they work with, and to their respective bosses. Gen Xers
do not think anyone owes them a job or job security. They
accept job instability as a natural part of employment and
frequently possess a “look out for yourself” and “move on”
mentality toward jobs and careers. Gen Xers associate job
security with developing the skills that make them attractive
to the next employer. While previous generations complained
about upper management but accepted it, Gen Xers waste no
time complaining. They send out their résumés and simply
find another job.
Charting A Career Path
Consistent with the characteristics of Gen Xers, NASPA
panel members followed career paths that included positions at four to five institutions prior to age 40. No panelists were restricted by a specific region or institutional type.
Their moves from position to position were strategic (seeking
progressively more responsibility and authority); intentional
(building essential skills for career progression); and broad