Gen X in the workplace

February 8, 2024
| ByMadison

2023 was a historic year—ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) novelties took the world by storm, India passed China to become the most populous country, and the workplace became the most diverse in history. As Baby Boomers continue to retire later and Gen Z enters the workforce, we now have an unprecedented multigenerational workforce:

  1. Baby Boomers
  2. Gen X
  3. Millennials
  4. Gen Z

While each generation brings unique skills and experiences to the workplace, they’re all vastly different. How you manage a Gen Z worker should differ from how you work with a Baby Boomer employee. Don’t worry—in this three-part blog series, we’re breaking down how to work more effectively with each generation, starting with Gen X. 

Who is Gen X?

Generation X, the Latchkey Generation, the Forgotten Generation, Gen X—whatever you call it, this generation is the smallest generation of all, with nearly 65 million people falling into this group. Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen X falls after the Baby Boomer generation and before Gen Y (aka Millennials).

Gen Xers share a few common traits:

  • They were born when social and cultural norms were shifting. As more women entered the workforce, Gen X kids were left at home more often to fend for themselves.

  • They were often overlooked in the workplace. Employers prioritized Baby Boomers who were retiring later while looking toward the future and all the possibilities Millennials would bring with their tech skills. Gen X was quickly forgotten about.

  • They’re more self-reliant than other generations. Gen Xers are fiercely independent, thanks in part to their upbringing. Many had to entertain themselves after school and take responsibility for their time while their parents were at work. 

Gen X in the workplace

Often children of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers saw how hard their parents worked… and what happened when the 1980s recession hit. Any financial stability their parents had built was gone, and all the sacrifices they made for work seemed pointless. Gen Xers took notice—they didn’t want to work so hard they missed out on life. Hence, them being credited as the pioneers of work-life balance.

Their upbringing and seeing their parents struggle during the recession has largely shaped how Gen Xers work and show up in the workplace. Let's explore a few other characteristics that define Gen X in the modern workplace. 

  • As the first generation to grow up with both parents working, Gen X became independent at a young age—caring for themselves after school until their parents returned from work
  • Gen Xers prefer to solve problems on their own—they’re not nearly as collaborative as other generations
  • This generation enjoys a self-led approach to work and doesn’t work well with micromanagers
  • They value work-life balance, which drives their need for efficiency—no 12-hour days here
  • Gen X employees strongly prefer to keep their work and personal lives separate
  • When it comes to technology, Gen Xers aren’t as addicted as Millennials and Gen Z, but they’re pretty tech-savvy and willing to learn
  • Gen Xers have more debt than any other generation, making them very financially conscious (and driven)

Gen X communication preferences

Each generation has different ways of communicating, whether it’s via Slack for Gen Z, a phone call to Baby Boomers, or emailing Gen Xers. While everyone in each generation shares commonalities, it can never hurt to ask your employees individually how they like to communicate in the workplace. Here are a few general ways Gen X communicates at work:

  • They prefer a more informal style
  • Gen Xers value more traditional channels, like phone calls and emails
  • While Gen Xers will text, they’ll likely call or email before sending a text or Slack message
  • Despite a more casual style, they expect colleagues to keep it professional
  • They’re blunt and expect leaders and coworkers to be direct—no sugarcoating

Motivating Gen X

Gen X started the work-life balance culture, so the best way to keep them motivated is to offer perks and benefits that allow them to achieve that balance. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let them work flexible schedules, including non-traditional hours and a remote or hybrid environment
  • Give them as much autonomy as possible to work on projects how they see fit
  • Respect their boundaries and don’t email or call them before or after their established working hours
  • Embrace and celebrate their independence by giving them freedom from micromanagers and constant check-ins
  • Give them financial rewards or incentives, like promotions, pay raises, bonuses, and gift cards when they go above and beyond

Moving forward

Like any generation, Gen X is unique. Its unique experiences, perspective, and way of doing things add value to any organization. But it’s on you to manage Gen Xers effectively and adapt to how to prefer to work. If you need help figuring out how to do that, we’re here to help. We'll show you how to recognize and reward your Gen X employees how they want.

And if you want to learn more about this new intergenerational workforce, download our ebook.

At Madison Recognition our work is rooted in the belief that unleashing the productive potential of employees with reward and recognition programs and empowering individuals will help us stay ahead of workforce trends. Want to learn more about working with Gen Z? Download our white paper.

Subscribe to Our Blog

Recent Posts