Independent & Hardworking, Gen X Wants Balance

Gen Xer

Managing Different Generations in the Workplace: Part One

The eclectic mix of employee personalities and working styles can be challenging in itself. However, with roughly three different generations working together at one time, multiple perspectives, and varying levels of experience, compound the complexity of training.

Generation X—birth dates ranging from the early 1960s to the early 1980s—has worked for more than two decades. With Generations Y and Z entering the fold, what’s the most effective method of communication with this cohort? As the first of a four-part series, let’s break down Generation X.

The concept of authority

According to annual surveys administered by the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, Gen Xers are defined as people who are highly educated, active, balanced and family-oriented. The study gathers data using various questions and responses from roughly 4,000 participants who were surveyed each year from 1987 through 2010.

The LSAY is a project funded by the National Science Foundation that began in 1985 and is designed to measure the development of student attitudes toward achievements and career paths in a range of subject areas. The participants are surveyed during middle school, high school and the first four years of post-high school.

Forbes magazine explained that Gen Xers view their superiors as experts whose work experience and skill levels demand a high level of consideration and respect. They believe that being an authoritative figure in the workplace is a substantial achievement and earned through hard work and dedication. They also like structure and direction from senior leadership, but are self-reliant when completing a task.

The perception of balance

According to Training magazine, Gen Xers strive to find a balance between the office and home. Because baby boomers are usually loyal to their workplace, Gen Xers might view their older colleagues as workaholics who are afraid of change and lack adaptability. Being brought up during a shift in technological advancements, Generation X learns from a range of modalities – from traditional, instructor-led training to online classroom environments.

Leaders should understand how Gen Xers operate and incorporate various methods to effectively engage them in the training environment. These include a mixture of visual activities, like PowerPoint presentations combined with virtual quizzes and polls. The best communication balance for managers is to provide adequate feedback to Gen Xers: It can serve as a viable motivator for continuing—or improving—their strong work ethic.

The power of engagement

Caught in-between two very different generations—baby boomers and millennials—Gen Xers are a blend of the old and new guards. They can endure the nitty-gritty grind of completing projects, but they also appreciate working autonomously on various assignments.

Knowing this, managers should leverage the Generation X motivators and accommodate their unique perspectives on the workplace. Direct and immediate feedback keeps them engaged and happy, contributing to the company’s success and maintaining high employee morale as well. For example, exploring monetary bonus plans for completing assignments can provide Gen Xers with the encouragement they need for optimal performance.

To work efficiently on bolstering productivity and engagement, managers need to understand the characteristics of Generation X. But with Generations Y and Z in the workplace as well, they have to accommodate for varying personalities. Stay tuned for our next feature on the Millennials and their own specific intricacies.

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© 2014 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at

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