How can organisations successfully manage Gen X in the workplace?
The Generation X (Gen X) definition includes anyone born between 1965-1980. Sandwiched between the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1965) and Generation Y (or Millennials), they make up around 20% of the US population. This makes them the smallest post-war demographic group, but an important group in the working world.
Focus on Generation X
- Characteristics of Gen X
- Values of Generation X
- What does Gen X think about work?
- What are the main differences between Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z?
- What are the challenges of Gen X in the job market?
- Why do Gen Xers quit their jobs?
- How can employers motivate and inspire Gen X?
- How can Gen X, Y and Z work together?
- How Tivian helps you successfully lead multigenerational teams
What are the main characteristics of Gen X?
Their unique upbringing shapes Gen X’s values and characteristics. At home, they grew up with higher divorce rates amongst their parents and more two-income households. This meant they had much less adult presence in their childhood and teenage years, leading them to be nicknamed the “latchkey generation”. They had to fend for themselves (and look after younger siblings) early.
They have also experienced major geopolitical and economic change. Born into the Cold War, they’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the AIDs epidemic, the dotcom boom and crash and the global financial crisis. In their working lives they’ve lived through multiple recessions.
The combination of all these factors has made them resilient, flexible, and self-reliant, both inside and outside work. They are independent, analytical and hardworking, with an entrepreneurial ‘can do’ spirit, as displayed by notable Gen Xer Elon Musk.
Quiet and self-effacing
Having been through a lot of change makes Generation Xers characteristically laid-back and calm. They don’t feel the need to make a lot of noise around their achievements. That doesn’t mean they shun recognition, but that they don’t actively demand it.
Gen X has learned from childhood just to get on with things and focus on what you can change. They therefore take a pragmatic view of any challenges they face and have strong problem-solving skills. They are still ambitious and willing to learn.
Tech-savvy, not tech-dependent
Millennials may be seen as the first tech native generation, but Gen X were responsible for creating the internet as we know it, founding companies such as Google and Amazon. As such they are tech-savvy, but not tech-dependent like subsequent generations. Essentially, they experienced the analogue world that came before tech, and saw its advantages and disadvantages.
What are the values of Generation X?
A desire for balance
Unlike their baby boomer parents who focused on their careers rather than their home life, Generation X workforce takes a much more balanced view. They have a strong work ethic, but also want a fulfilling home and social life too. That means they won’t just chase additional promotions and pay rises for the sake of it.
Focused on family
Perhaps due to their upbringing, which saw minimal adult involvement, Generation X are very focused on family and personal life. They have lots of hobbies and spend a great deal of time (and money) on their families, whether caring for children or helping parents who are living longer.
A need for security
Gen X has seen a lot of change, and this has made them independent and resilient. However, at the same time they crave security, which can be seen in their desire for a strong family and social life. It also manifests itself in a need for safety and a lack of risk taking, both at home and work.
As a generation that spans the analogue and digital worlds, Gen X has experience of a range of communication styles. They are equally happy with face-to-face meetings and picking up the phone as sending an email or using social media. They like working in teams, are adept at building strong, interpersonal relationships and loyal to their friends.
What does Gen X think about work?
The majority of Gen X are now in their 40s and 50s, meaning they have been in the workforce for many years. They now make up around 35% of employees, and over 50% of managers.
Work to live
Research by Zety has shown: For 86% of Generation X workers, work-life balance is important and excessive overtime is a relevant reason for quitting their jobs. Many Gen Xers even want a separation between work and personal life.
As part of their desire for independence and work-life balance, many Xers want to work from home. A EY US Generation Survey in 2022 found that 29% of Gen X respondents who plan to leave their jobs in the next year said home office options would encourage them to stay.
Their experience has been one of tremendous economic change – recessions, layoffs and restructuring. No wonder job security and financial security are more important to them than career fulfilment.
Loyalty, but within limits
25% of Gen Xers have been with their current employer for more than 12 years. However, Gen Xers do not have the unwavering loyalty of the baby boomer generation. They are committed to a life outside of work.
Gen X is clear in what they want from employers:
- Respect for the work they do, and respect for their time, especially around work/life balance
- Freedom to work independently without being micro-managed
- A strong company culture that is open, friendly, and supportive but not formal, stuffy, and hierarchical
- The ability to work in teams based on strong interpersonal relationships
- Growth and development opportunities
- Flexibility in how and where they work
What are the main differences between Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z?
Gen X wants:
- To be independent, and self-sufficient in the workplace
- Not to be micro-managed or hemmed in by rules
- Supported with the latest technology when at work
- Willing to work hard and be resilient, while valuing work/life balance
- Openness and feedback on their work
Gen Z wants:
- To work for a purpose-driven company that enables them to make a difference
- To be well-paid for their work
- To be supported, especially around mental health and have a good work/life balance
- To be able to work flexibly, from wherever they want
- To work through a mix of human and digital interactions
Gen Y wants:
- To work for a purpose-driven company that enables them to make a difference
- To build a career, even if it means working long hours and neglecting work/life balance
- Rewards, praise, and feedback
- To be able to work flexibly, from wherever they want
- To work collaboratively in teams where they have a defined role
Gen X is very much the middle generation, acting as a bridge between the buttoned-down but hard-working baby boomers and the creativity and purpose of millennials and Gen Z. Generation X workplace characteristics mean they are highly invested in their jobs but want balance and are only loyal if their needs are being met. They have less interest in purpose but are equally committed to receiving open and direct feedback around their work.
Get to know all generations in today´s workplace. Understand what Generation X, Y and Z really wants and what you should focus on as a company. Our deep dives will help you.
What are the challenges of Gen X in the job market?
There were over 53m Gen Xers in US workforce in 2022, a smaller number than millennials. However, given their length of service they hold over 50% of management roles, meaning that many of their challenges they face are about managing multigenerational workforces.
As well as successfully managing teams, they do have to deal with a range of other issues that impact their engagement and loyalty:
- They can be the victim of ageism, being passed over roles because they are seen as unable to learn new skills. For example, they are equally as adept at using technology as millennials, but may be ignored for tech roles because of their age
- They can be overlooked because they just get on with their jobs without making a fuss. 79% of Gen X said they were the forgotten generation in the workplace, overshadowed by younger and older workers.
- They have to juggle multiple responsibilities in terms of work, home life, and looking after both children and elderly parents. Upsetting this delicate balance causes disengagement and leads them to quit their jobs.
How can companies target and recruit Gen X?
As a generation that combines analogue and digital skills, Gen X can be targeted equally through online and offline channels. They are happy to interview face-to-face as well as using social media and smartphones to build virtual networks and target opportunities.
There are number of things that Gen X is looking for from employers:
- Openness. They want an open, diverse culture that is friendly and approachable
- Respect. They want to be treated with respect and feel they are valued for their skills and hard work
- The right benefits. As well as work/life balance and flexible working, Gen X responds well to financial benefits, such as around healthcare
- Direct feedback. Gen X wants to know how they are doing through regular, in-depth feedback, backed up by rewards and recognition for doing a good job
- Communication. They want transparency and open communication across the organisation
Why do Gen Xers quit their jobs?
There’s a common misconception that Gen X are loyal and don’t leave their jobs, particularly as they get older. However, that’s not the full picture – if you don’t meet their needs Gen X will have no qualms about quitting. 2022 data from Visier showed that Gen X were leading the Great Resignation, with 37% more 45-50 year olds leaving companies in Q1 2022 compared to a year earlier.
These are the most common reasons for Gen X leaving a role:
- A lack of work/life balance and excessive overtime.
- Not offering remote/hybrid working. Working from home supports Gen X’s work/life balance aspirations, and is a key requirement when they are looking for a role
- Toxic work cultures where they don’t feel valued
- Being passed over for promotion. Data from Harvard Business Review found that Gen X is promoted at rates 20-30% slower than millennials, despite them being equally strong candidates for management roles.
How can employers motivate and inspire Gen X?
Given their age, Gen X are currently in the “opportunity decade” when they will rise up to the top of organisations or seize new opportunities. Many are seeking change, either in their working or personal lives as children leave home and they become more senior.
As they currently hold a great deal of a company’s intellectual capital, they need to be nurtured and engaged. However, given they are sandwiched between two larger, noisier generations (baby boomers and millennials), they can be overlooked by businesses and taken for granted. This led to Pew Research nicknaming Gen X as the “neglected middle child” stuck between baby boomers staying longer in the workforce and growing numbers of millennials below them.
So firstly, don’t take Gen X for granted. It may feel that they’ve been around for a long time, and that they just get on with their jobs without complaint. However to get the best out of Gen X it is essential to meet their needs, especially when it comes to management, feedback and communications:
- Don’t micro-manage. Give Gen X the space to carry out their roles in the way that they see as most efficient and effective. Don’t force them to act in certain ways or constantly ask for status reports. Trust them but let them know that support is available if required.
- Provide honest, accurate feedback. Let them know how they are doing with direct, regular feedback. Listen to them by collecting their feedback, whether on their job or the wider company, tapping into their experience and knowledge.
- Respect their time. Don’t force them to attend pointless meetings or stay late unnecessarily through poor planning.
- Communicate openly and honestly. Whether through face-to-face or digital channels take time to communicate effectively about company and individual performance.
- Provide opportunities for learning. Just because they are experienced, doesn’t mean that Gen X is not open to learning. Provide training opportunities around their roles or to increase their management skills
How can Gen X, Y and Z work together?
Workplaces are likely to currently have a mix of four generations, from baby boomers down to Gen Z. While this not an equal split, with more and more baby boomers retiring, there are still significant differences between generations and how they want to be treated – by managers and their colleagues. It is up to companies to bridge this divide by understanding their individual needs and providing managers with the right training to avoid bias and to get the best from a multigenerational workforce.
Read all about the advantages of multigenerational teams and learn how to lead them successfully in our blog “Multigenerational Workforce“
How Tivian helps you successfully lead multigenerational teams
Managing teams comprising Gen Z, Y and X requires leaders to take a personalized approach. They must meet the individual needs of every team member, providing them with the right experience that motivates and retains them.
Tivian’s employee experience platform provides the foundation for success. It enables you to regularly listen to every employee’s feedback and then understand and act on their insights. This builds a strong, productive working environment that meets everyone’s needs and drives greater engagement.
Ensuring that leaders at all levels have the skills to manage multigenerational teams requires a commitment to constant development and improvement. Tivian´s Leadership 360 empowers leaders through 360 degree on-demand feedback on their performance, uncovering areas for growth and development. It enables high-performing leaders to accelerate organizational success.
Focus on feedback – Gen X also does
Generation X wants open and honest communication – face to face or via digital channels. They want to be listened to and work in companies that value them. On the one hand, continuous feedback lets you know what your employees really want. On the other hand, you show that the experiences, knowledge and opinions of Generation X count for you – and Xers are not to be taken for granted by your company.
Tivian’s Employee Experience Suite enables you to collect feedback at every touchpoint of the Employee Journey and optimize the overall experience of all generations.