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Generation X in the Workplace: What HR Leaders Need to Know

July 29, 2019 / Employee Experience

Written By: Gabrielle Purchon

HR professionals are tasked with creating an inclusive employee experience that supports the health and wellbeing of their employees. But with so many different age groups working side by side, it’s important to understand where each group is coming from and what they need to perform their best. 

Generation X (or Gen X) is categorized by Pew Research Center as those born from 1964 to 1980. They’re sandwiched between their larger and more headline-making neighbors — baby boomers and millennials.  

Organizations stand to benefit by supporting Generation X in the workplace. This generation is known to be hard-working, loyal, and great leaders. Read on to learn more about Gen Xers and what they want their employers to know. 

Generation X: Fast Facts

  • Generation X is also known as the MTV Generation or the latchkey generation. They earned their nicknames due to the increase in divorce rates and the rise of women entering the workforce, leaving many Gen Xers unsupervised after school.  
  • Gen Xers number around 66 million people between the ages of 39 and 54. 
  • The computer revolution was just gaining ground when Gen Xers were growing up, but many younger Gen Xers had computers at home and school. 
  • Nearly a quarter of U.S. Gen Xers lived in rural areas when aged 6 to 21, during a time when Americans were having fewer children. 

Generation X in the Workplace

Time will tell if Generation X will ever get the spotlight, but research continues to show that they’re strong-willed, independent, successful, and balanced. 

And while other generations are empty nesters or have yet to start a family, Gen X currently has their hands full. According to MarketWatch, “more than 75% of Gen Xers have children; and nearly half have both a parent who’s over 65 and a child.” Yet, as adults, Gen Xers are reported to be active, balanced and happy,” with just 4% reporting a “great deal of unhappiness.” 

Even though they’re happy, Gen Xers are cognizant of the lack of recognition their group has received — both in the media and the workplace. Gen Xer and Forbes Agency Council contributor Angela Woo elaborates 

“This cultural backdrop has defined a ‘work hard, play hard’ generation that is now at the pinnacle of their careers. Many of us are homeowners and have families of our own. So, here we sit in this powerful time with money, resources, and influence, and we still aren’t in the mainstream conversation. We’ve watched the culture interest shift from boomers to millennials like we’re a flyover state.” 

Aside from wanting a little more recognition, there are some key things HR leaders should know about Generation X in the workplace.  

They’re Just as Tech-Savvy as Millennials 

Though Gen Z and millennials are known to be tech-savvy, according to a 2016 Nielsen report, Gen X is actually the most connected generation, spending almost 7 hours a week on social media. Fifty-four percent of Gen Xers report being digitally savvy, and compared to millennials, they’re also likelier to log “more time on every type of device.”  

While their technical aptitude is often underestimated, this generation is plugged in and knowledgeable. 

  • Digital communication is an effective way to reach this generation, but be mindful of their inability to disconnect. Encourage good work-life balance by discouraging weekend emails or notifications. 
  • Social networking through a wellbeing app is a great way for this social-media-savvy generation to build new relationships and engage with their peers. 
  • Gen Xers have kept pace with significant technological advances during their lifetime. Offer learning and development opportunities to serve their interests and boost their skill sets further.  

They’re Not Ready for Retirement

When it comes to finances, only 59% of Gen Xers are confident in their situation. Of Gen Xers studied globally, their highest concerns were “not being able to enjoy retirement, getting stuck with no opportunities, or losing job security,” with retirement being the top concern for respondents in the UK, U.S., and Spain.  

  • 401ks, and especially a matching program, will be a very attractive benefit to this generation. 
  • Verbal recognition is incredibly important to this generation, but with finances being of such a high concern, a little financial recognition could go a long way. Consider a yearly bonus structure or a wellbeing program that offers cash incentives to adopt healthy behaviors and hit target health goals.  

Gen Xers Are Great Leaders

Research shows 51% of global leadership and more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 CEOs are Gen Xers. This seasoned group of professionals averages 20 years of work experience — and it’s clear they have a knack for leadership.  

Global leadership consulting firm DDI says Gen X really thrives in leadership roles: 

“Gen X leaders’ strength for working with others enables them to shape the future of work and generate faster innovation by getting people working together to solve customers’ and their organization’s issues. The large majority (69%) are effective in hyper-collaboration and working to break down organizational silos.” 

In a global study of 18,000 participants from 19 countries, 63% of Gen X men and 52% of Gen X women said becoming a leader was important to them. And they don’t just want to become leaders for the responsibility — they’re more excited about the coaching and mentoring opportunities it brings.  

The study also found Gen Xers in all countries were “worried about achieving work-life balance,” an issue that is heightened for German, Swiss and Emirati Gen Xers. In line with their lack of mainstream recognition, Gen X leaders tend to have more direct reports than millennial leaders, but their “advancement rate is slower” and they’re the “most overlooked for promotion.” This could be the reason 54% of Gen Xers are stressed at work, a higher percentage than millennials and baby boomers. 

  • How clear are the career paths at your organization? Make your company more appealing to this talented generation by providing a clear path to leadership roles. Don’t have room for more leaders? Structure roles so that they have mentoring opportunities built in. 
  • A thorough, regular review cycle can help prevent promotions from falling through the cracks.  
  • Offer a wellbeing program with stress management initiatives to help this generation perform at their best. 

Gen Xers are Not Looking to Hop Around

Generation X is made up of loyal, independent, and adaptable employees who don’t need micromanaging. They’re willing and able to accept and conquer whatever challenge they’re entrusted with — so, employers, it’s time to recognize them. 

Want to know what baby boomers, millennials, Generation X, and Generation Z rank as their most important wellbeing priorities? Download our whitepaper to learn more about these unique cohorts and how inclusive wellbeing strategies can support today’s diverse workplace.

About The Author

Gabrielle is the content marketing manager and strategist at Virgin Pulse. Her adventurous and food-seeking attitude has led her to jump out of planes and dine at one of the best restaurants in the world. But as someone who strives for balance, you can also find her enjoying quiet moments with a book or face planting in the sand come summer.

Lisa Harris |

Ty so much for this article – well said – because in the industry I’m in – they are not hiring us gen xers at all …

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