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  3. What you have to know about Generation X in the workplace
What you have to know about Generation X in the workplace

What you have to know about Generation X in the workplace

Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova

  • Who is Generation X
  • Characteristics of Gen X behavior in the workplace
  • What are Generation X workplace values?
  • Shortcomings of Gen X at work
  • How to manage your Gen X staff
  • 1. Don’t micromanage
  • 2. Set clearly defined work hours and expectations
  • 3. Utilize effective communication
  • How to motivate Generation X in the workplace
  • 1. Recognize their experience and expertise
  • 2. Emphasize the purpose and impact of their work
  • 3. Offer professional development opportunities
  • Key takeaways

Gen Xers are prevalent in the workplace. Here’s everything to know about how best to work alongside your Gen X colleagues.

Generation X  holds a significant presence in today's workplace. Understanding the characteristics and dynamics of this generation is essential for fostering a harmonious work environment.  By recognizing their strengths, preferences, and communication styles, organizations can effectively engage and leverage the talents of Generation X employees, promoting productivity and collaboration in the modern workplace.

In this article we’ll discuss:

  • Gen X and their workplace characteristics

  • The shortcomings of Gen X at work

  • Tips for the best way to manage your Gen X staff

Who is Generation X

Generation X refers to the cohort of individuals born roughly between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, following the Baby Boomers and preceding the Millennials. Generation X grew up during a time of social and technological changes, witnessing the rise of personal computers, the advent of the internet, and significant cultural shifts. They have been characterized as adaptable and practical, shaped by events such as the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the rapid advancement of technology.

Characteristics of Gen X behavior in the workplace

Known for their independent nature, adaptability, and strong work ethic, Generation X brings a unique perspective to the table. In their professional toolkits, Gen Xers bring pragmatism and constructive communication, and they are typically results-driven.

As with any generation, Gen Xers were influenced by their upbringing and the world around them. Due to changing social and economic dynamics, both parents of Gen Xers often worked outside the home, leading to an increase in latchkey children who had to become self-reliant and independent at an early age. That’s why one of the most prominent behaviors of Gen X in the workplace is an appreciation for a healthy work-life balance. 

Along those same lines, Gen Xers are typically quite independent at work and value autonomy, appreciating the freedom to accomplish tasks on their own terms. They can be given instructions once and can then go execute the task. 

What are Generation X workplace values?

A lot of the familiar standards of a good work ethic can be seen in the work personas of Gen X. Think of communication, timeliness, dependability, and flexibility. 

You can see evidence of these values by considering the prevalence of Gen Xers in C-suite and other executive roles. In fact, DDI’s 2018 Global Leadership Forecast found that 51 percent of all leadership roles globally are held by members of Gen X. 

After living through the financial difficulties of their time, Gen Xers came out the other side as determined, resilient hard workers. As a result, many Gen Xers care about earning a fair salary and are willing to work to prove their worth. Still, meaningful work is typically valued higher by Gen Xers than any monetary goal. They prioritize efficiency, productivity, and delivering outcomes that align with organizational goals.

Problem-solving is another workplace value that Gen Xers hold dear. As an employee, Gen Xers appreciate being given the space to come to their own solutions. And in a leadership role, Gen Xers respect their employees’ ability to problem-solve on their own. 

Shortcomings of Gen X at work

In recent years the workforce has seen a shift in how employer loyalty is valued. Whereas Millennials and Gen Z are suggesting changing companies every two to five years, Gen X remains overly loyal to their employers.

The downfall here is that Gen Xer’s unwavering loyalty doesn’t inspire employers to incentivize their staff. In short, Gen Xers see fewer raises and slower professional growth than those who are willing to risk leaving a safe job in search of a better one. 

Additionally, Gen Xers have spent much of their working lives in the shadows of Boomers. While Gen Xers are largely regarded as the generation that changed workplace norms for the better, there is no denying the impact that Boomer bosses have had on them. High expectations and traditional workplace hierarchies are still commonplace in many Gen X-run companies. 

How to manage your Gen X staff

A resilient group, managing Gen X can be as simple as understanding why they operate the way they do. They’ll get the job done either way, but with these tips, you’ll be contributing to a healthy workplace environment for all. 

1. Don’t micromanage

As a highly independent demographic, Gen Xers appreciate autonomy in completing their tasks. Micromanaging means giving instruction down to the last detail, too-frequent check-ins, and making decisions on behalf of an employee without consulting them. While few people actually enjoy being micromanaged, Gen Xers are particularly averse. 

2. Set clearly defined work hours and expectations

Gen Xers are adamant about not perpetuating the work-life balance they grew up around. Acknowledge this desire for a healthy balance by giving your Gen X staff clear work hours and expectations. 

3. Utilize effective communication

Gen Xers respond well to constructive communication. They receive feedback well and typically communicate their own needs effectively. To have a positive impact on your Gen X staff, make a point of giving praise and pointing out their successes. 

How to motivate Generation X in the workplace

As with any generation, individual motivations may vary, so it's essential to have open conversations, listen to their needs, and customize motivational approaches to fit the preferences and aspirations of each Gen X employee. Keeping that in mind, here are a few tips that might be helpful:

1. Recognize their experience and expertise

Generation X has accumulated significant professional experience and expertise. Acknowledge their knowledge and skills, and provide opportunities for them to share their expertise with others through mentoring or leading training sessions. Recognize their contributions and highlight their achievements publicly.

2. Emphasize the purpose and impact of their work

Also, Generation X is motivated by work that has a meaningful impact. Highlight how their contributions align with the broader organizational goals and how their work positively affects customers, society, or the organization itself. Connect their tasks to a larger purpose and emphasize the importance of their role.

3. Offer professional development opportunities

Provide opportunities for continuous learning and skill development that align with Generation X's desire for growth. Offer training programs, workshops, and conferences that allow them to enhance their knowledge and stay up to date with the latest industry trends and advancements.

Key takeaways

  1. Many workplace values of Gen Xers are based on growing up during a time of rapid societal and technological changes.

  2. Generation X values independence and appreciates having the freedom to make decisions and take ownership of their work. 

  3. Motivating Generation X in the workplace requires understanding their values, preferences, and aspirations. 

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