- Generation X comprises people born between 1960 and 1980.
- Gen X is known for independence, adaptability and resilience.
- When working with Gen X, provide opportunities for growth, avoid micromanaging and respect their experience,
- This article is for business owners managers who want to more about Gen Xers, including their personality traits, their likes and dislikes, and how to collaborate effectively with them in the workplace.
With four generations currently active in the workforce (boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z), understanding how each behaves in the workplace can help ensure a productive and harmonious business. Gen X are those born between the mid-'60s to 1980. They are known for their independence and adaptability. For business owners and managers, understanding the characteristics that define Gen X employees, their personality traits, and their communication style can help you create beneficial, lasting relationships that benefit your business.
Who is Gen X?
Generation X, or Gen X, is a generational group of people born between the early to mid-1960s to 1980. They are the generation in between boomers, who were born between 1943 and 1960, and millennials, who were born between 1980 and the mid to late '90s. As of 2020, most Gen Xers are between 41 and 55 years old.
Key takeaway: Gen X comprises individuals born between the early 1960s to 1980.
Characteristics of Gen X in the workplace
While each employee brings their own experiences into the workplace, members of each generation may have several traits in common, owing to major events that took place during their childhood and parenting trends of the time. These traits may carry over to the workplace.
Here are some of the most common traits seen in Gen X workers:
Many Gen Xers grew up with parents who worked outside of the home. Many Gen Xers are independent and attempt to overcome challenges without relying on outside help. As a business owner or manager, your Gen X employees may prefer that you give them space and autonomy to fix problems, or to propose solutions to problems.
Value work-life balance
Members of Generation X place a high value on work-life balance; they are less dependent on their employers than their boomer parents were on their employers. Many Gen Xers have set work schedules; they manage their time carefully, but design their schedule to accommodate their families, passions and other interests.
Much like their millennial successors, Gen Xers work well in a flexible, informal work environment that has a "work hard, play hard" mentality. They value diversity, creative thinking and have fun at work. Gen Xers tend to be very flexible, adaptable and amenable to change, which makes them valuable employees to have during turbulent times.
Adapt to new technology
While they are not tech natives like millennials and Gen Z, Gen X was at the forefront of the switch from analog to digital technology, witnessing the advent of desktop computers, cell phones, social media and the internet. They are highly adaptable and learn new technologies rapidly.
Many Gen Xers came of age during the 1990s recession – they emerged resilient and able to take on challenges head-on.
"Nothing was handed to us, so we tend to be scrappy, resilient, adaptable, hard-working and a little bit cynical," said Sacha Cohen, founder of Grassfed Media and former host of the GenX Stories podcast. "But even though we have paid our dues, we're not afraid to dig in and get our hands dirty."
Direct and open to feedback
Gen Xers tend to not beat around the bush, preferring to have open and honest work conversations. They also tend to respond well to feedback and criticism, without letting it derail their confidence.
Perhaps due to their largely tech-free childhoods, Gen Xers are excellent team players and collaborators who form strong interpersonal relationships at work. They make strong connections with their team members and can quickly work through challenges as part of a group.
Calm and collected
John Ross, president and CEO of Test Prep Insight, observed that the Gen X employees he works with are defined by their mellow and laid-back attitude.
"Whereas our younger millennial employees are eager beavers, always fluttering around and constantly worried about the smallest details, my Gen X employees don't seem to ever be as rattled or worried," Ross said.
Key takeaway: Generation Xers are defined by several characteristics; many are independent, resilient, adaptable and flexible.
How to work with Gen X
If you have Gen X staff members (as you're likely to, since they make up 35% of the modern workforce), here are seven ways to support and cultivate your working relationship with them:
- Allow them to work autonomously. Gen Xers are highly independent and thrive when given plenty of responsibility for their work. Offer opportunities for them to prove their responsibility. You might ask them to lead a project or design their workflow.
- Respect their time. Gen X workers place a high priority on using time effectively. At work, respect their time by ensuring that meetings start and end on time, that meetings are productive, set and keep firm deadlines, and keep emails concise and to the point.
- Provide a strong work-life balance. Many Gen X employees have families and active lives outside of the workplace. To support your Gen X employees, offer a generous paid time-off (PTO) policy, flexible working hours, and respect employees' time off.
- Communicate openly and honestly. "We don't expect to be coddled and typically appreciate straightforward communication styles," said Cohen. "Most of us prefer an email to a million text messages." With Gen X, keep your messages direct and succinct so they can move forward efficiently with their work and won't feel that you're wasting their time.
- Don't micromanage. One of the easiest ways to annoy a Gen X employee is to micromanage their work. Gen Xers are highly independent, and value being left to their own devices to solve a problem or complete a project. Rest assured, they will come to you if need be – Gen X are direct communicators.
- Provide learning opportunities. Gen Xers grew up during a time of great advancement and learning; they are eager to continue their education and to further develop their competencies, even as an experienced worker. As their employer, offer plenty of training and opportunities to attend conferences and symposiums.
- Value their experience. With millennials being the largest generation in today's workforce, it is becoming increasingly likely that Gen Xers will be managed by millennials versus a fellow Gen Xer. If you are a manager and a member of the millennial generation, respect your Gen X employees' experience, values and preferences.
Key takeaway: When working with Gen X, they prefer autonomy, they don't like to be micromanaged, and they use a direct communication style.