Generation refers to a group of people born within the same era and under similar circumstances. Because of their backgrounds, people in each birth cohort often manifest similar traits and dispositions.
In the 2020s, the most prominent generation would be Generation X. Generation X characteristics embody the social changes and developments of the 1970s to 1980s.
By understanding these characteristics, organizations can better support their Gen X employees and enhance their career development.
In this blog post, I will share 10 prominent Generation X characteristics in the workplace. As a millennial business communication trainer and microentrepreneur, I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Gen Xers. I also have had the privilege of teaching many Gen X students in my business communication classes.
Who are the Gen Xers?
Generation X includes individuals born between 1965 and 1981. During this time, the world was busy recovering from the recently ended World War II. Because of their social set-up, life was hard growing up as a Gen Xer. With too many economic challenges happening at once, Gen Xers grew up to be more realistic than idealistic.
Since their parents were tied at work and making ends meet, Gen X Generation kids grew up with lesser parental supervision. The existing circumstances forced them to become mature at a young age. They also interacted more with peers their age and had a higher tendency to be rebellious.
When it comes to music, Gen Xers love hip-hop, alternative rock, and grunge music. They also acquired the title “MTV Generation,” referencing the MTV video channel, which was influential during most of their formative years. Gen Xers also experienced a massive wave of technological revolution, especially in media.
As of 2022, the United States has 65.1 million Generation X members. They make up about 19.3% of the national population. Currently, Gen Xers are in their early forties and late fifties. Because of their age and experience, some members hold the highest positions in politics and business throughout the country.
How do they differ from previous generations, especially baby boomers?
To some extent, Gen Xers are technological pioneers. As said earlier, they experienced significant technological development compared to their predecessors, the Baby Boomer generation.
Compared to others, their generation is more defiant and unapologetic. As children who grew up in a post-war world, they are not the most materialistic individuals. They opt to make the most of what they have rather than look for something new.
As a generation hardened by time and trying social conditions, Generation X turned into industrious workers. They maintain a work ethic stricter than other generations will ever have.
Some of the most notable individuals from this generation are ex-president Barack Obama and Latina superstar Jennifer Lopez.
What are the characteristics of Generation X employees?
Gen Xers exhibit unique sets of work-related attitudes and practices. They resisted many of the baby boomers’ labor notions and built core concepts preserving the humanity of workers.
How do you distinguish workers from the so-called “silent generation” to help improve employee experience management? Listed below are the ten most recognizable characteristics of Generation X workers:
1. They are highly independent.
Gen Xers are independent kids who grew up to be self-reliant adults. This level of self-sufficiency shows in their work. They do not require high-level supervision.
They are the type to study problems by themselves without immediately reaching out to others. They take the initiative and do not want to bother superiors with trivial matters.
Despite their drive for autonomy, Gen Xers can be good team players. However, they may need time to adjust to other generations, especially the younger ones.
Generation X members should master collaboration and teamwork strategies to be more effective unit members. In addition, they should learn to relax a bit and unburden themselves from too many responsibilities.
2. They value work-life balance.
As the generation that saw how bad workplaces could be, Gen Xers would want a safer and more humane environment for themselves. In sum, they strongly strive for work-life balance.
They understand the importance of managing their time effectively so that they can have enough time for both work and personal commitments.
They work to live, not live to work. Gen Xers understand that working is an essential part of life. Without it, they cannot put food on the table. However, they do not want to enslave themselves in their jobs.
Gen Xers want to have a separate time for rest and leisure. They realize that all work and no play will destroy families. They are committed to their jobs, but they are a different persona beyond the work schedule.
3. They are versatile.
A CNBC article explained that Gen Xers are adept at conventional leadership. It means they can handle people in formal and informal settings. They can easily slide from being a boss into a reliable friend.
They possess top leadership skills, including strong communication skills. They utilize this skill to connect with others while working on several targets. As a result, Gen Xers quickly form bonds with others, regardless of generation.
Gen Xers should improve cross-team collaboration. It will help them adjust to different individuals without compromising end goals. This venture will also maximize their talents in breaking down organizational silos and speedy creating complementary strategies.
4. They adapt easily to new technology.
Gen X’s adaptability is beyond comparison. Although they are approaching the twilight of their years, they can still handle modern technology. Likewise, although Millennials and Gen Zs lead the development of innovative technologies, Gen Xers are not backing down to the challenge of modernity and pragmatism.
They are willing to learn and experiment, and they often bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the table, which can help to drive innovation and creativity.
Take the internet, for example. Gen Xers encountered the internet and digital technology later in their lives. However, Gen Xers have an innate interest in technology and development. They utilize their other skills, especially in communication, to collaborate with younger individuals in learning how to use modern technology at work. A proof of Gen Xers’ interest in learning modern technology is their overwhelming presence on social media.
5. They are resilient.
It is saddening to call Generation X the neglected middle child, but they embody too many characteristics of the said trope.
Gen Xers are resilient despite being the most unrecognized. They continue to work without receiving the merits they deserve. They are some of the most exemplary industry leaders today but are shadowed by passing baby boomers or incoming Millenials and Generation Z.
Most of the time, their loyalty to brands lasts for years. They are the type to stay within the same company for years and contribute to generations’ worth of improvements. Despite challenges, they continue to stay instead of finding better opportunities somewhere else.
6. They are open to constructive feedback.
As someone who values positive and well-balanced workplaces, it is natural for Generation X to be open to constructive criticisms. They are hard-working and communicative individuals who are conscious of their work outputs.
It is interesting to contrast Generation X as the superior and subordinate. Generation X members prefer receiving ample feedback from higher-ups when holding a lower position. However, as leaders, Generation X is not too keen on giving feedback to younger workers, especially the Millennial Generation.
Generation X prefers to be hands-off with their subordinates because they want to foster autonomy. However, Generation X can still accept feedback regarding this concern and change their approach toward leadership.
7. They like to learn new skills.
Generation X members are knowledge hungry. As the “Latch Key Generation,” or the kids left to their devices, they had to learn by themselves to thrive. As an adult, this strive for knowledge turns into instinctive learning.
Their skeptical nature makes them question things. Then, they resort to learning since they want an explanation for everything they do not understand. A great example is how they embrace AI writers compared to majority of their predecessors.
Learning new skills is a convenient drive for them to discover more. The more they discover, the more they learn. It is a continuous cycle that keeps pushing Generation X forward.
Besides technical skills, Generation X could also learn soft skills to make them more well-rounded employees.
8. They are willing to change jobs to get ahead.
Generation X is one of the most adaptable generations. If their current jobs no longer work for them, they are willing to transfer to another position to get a better footing.
Research reveals that Generation X is tolerant of alternative lifestyles because they witnessed how their parents were enslaved in the same work environment. They do not want to suffer the same cycle, so they are willing to change to improve their conditions.
As stated earlier, Generation X members have skeptical minds. Once they start doubting their current works, they look into better options. They are constantly on the hunt for a better life.
9. They are creative and entrepreneurial.
Generation X has an uncompromising entrepreneurial spirit. Again, this trait originates from being a child of baby boomer parents. Generation X children strive hard to make names for themselves because they grew up with nothing.
They also grew up to be creative. But instead of being artsy, Generation X members are more of the “street smart” creative. They maximize every resource they have to learn and grow.
Generation X workers are excellent at problem-solving. They create unique solutions as a result of their entrepreneurial and creative traits. They attack problems from different perspectives and develop an in-depth analysis of every relevant factor.
10. They thrive in fun and casual environments.
Unlike the Baby Boomer generation, Generation X did not have a strict and formal upbringing. As Generation X grew up, society became more radical and conventional. The rise of new social norms made everything less formal.
Gen Xers are fierce and experimental. They do not like to be bound by rules, especially those that prevent them from being autonomous. However, their adaptable nature allows them to succeed despite said boundaries.
At work, the casualness of Generation X shows in their approach to management and workflow. They would not mind how others work so long as other people mutually respect their independence.
What do Generation X want in the workplace?
Gen Xers ask for specific things while working. Regardless of fields of expertise, members of this generation prefer their workplaces to be autonomous and transparent.
Here are some of the most recognizable traits that Gen Xers prefer to have in their offices, production sites, and work centers:
1. Be honest and direct.
Generation X workers value honesty. As direct communicators, they receive feedback and comments without any filter. It would be better not to involve too many people in relaying said feedback and comments.
2. Do not micromanage.
As independent workers, excessive micromanagement can cause conflict for Generation X. Micromanaging will make Generation X employees feel trapped and undervalued. Instead of micromanaging, it would be better to negotiate with them regarding work duties and privileges.
3. Allow flexibility.
As masters of their time, Generation X employees would appreciate it if they could control their work hours. Despite growing up as traditional office workers, Generation X employees thrive in a work-from-home setup.
4. Respect their boundaries.
Never ruin a Generation X worker’s work-life balance. They are keen as to their work hours and rest days. They will work hard to meet work expectations within work hours but never burden them with additional responsibilities beyond the said schedule.
5. Provide them with learning opportunities.
Generation X employees are eager learners. The more growth opportunities they have, the more likely they will stay in a company. Besides compensation, Gen Xers enjoy a continuous expansion of professional abilities.
6. Let them exercise their creativity.
Creativity is a critical skill for Gen Xers. It allows them to work through unique styles and perspectives. Curtailing their creative outlets would make it more challenging for them to be productive and effective.
Expert Insights: How to Harness the Strengths of Gen X Employees
I interviewed several experts on Gen X employees, including business leaders, academics, and Gen X employees themselves. They shared their insights on the unique challenges and opportunities that Gen X employees face, as well as the best practices for supporting them.
Promote work-life balance
Responsibility, not micromanagement
Encourage teamwork and let them mentor younger colleagues
Generation X is a diverse and talented generation that brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the workplace. By understanding the unique characteristics of Gen X employees, organizations can better support them and create a more inclusive and productive work environment.
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