Your Definitive Guide to Working with Gen X

Again, I know groupings like generations cannot account for the uniqueness of each member of your team but in the end we are humans and our brains like grouping. There are some common characteristics among generations, especially regarding their motivation and communication styles in the workplace, that as leaders can help us to better understand and get to know the unique individuals on our teams.

Earlier, we started this series Generations in the Workplace with a focus on Baby Boomers – check that out here. Today, we’re moving onto to Gen X. So let’s dive in!

Gen X in the Workplace

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Okay, I’ll be honest, Gen X is one of my favorite generations. Y’all are some no-nonsense badasses! Gen X is roughly comprised of those born between 1965-1980 and they grew up in very different times than Boomers. Their childhoods were not a great time for families, as their Boomer parents worked long hours and became the generation with the highest divorce rate and second marriages. They were the first generation of latch-key kids, or kids that spent time at home alone while the parents were out at work (their moms were some of the first to work outside of the home). They also grew up with Watergate leading to major public distrust and when inflation caused an increase in unemployment.

Seeing their families disintegrate as they grew up, they were the first generation to bring forth the idea of a “work-life balance”. They were the first generation not willing to sacrifice their lives for work and rather work to live than live to work. They want to work smarter, not harder and value their time above all else. They prefer quick and to-the-point communication, whether written or verbal. The easiest way to piss off a Gen X’er is to waste their time with fluff or endless meetings. They want to get the job done and move to the next task as efficiently as possible and know that they are being paid to get their work done.

The greatest parts about this generation is their value on competence and honesty. They see skills as incredibly important and will learn what they need to get the job done well. They will be blunt, and sometimes brutally honest, but as long as you equally value competence and honesty you’ll receive their respect as well. They are efficient and reliable and while much less formal than their Boomer and Traditionalist elders, still have a respect for a traditional workplace (as long as they aren’t tasked with unnecessarily long hours). They want to be left alone to get their work done and aren’t impressed with authority or public recognition.

The difficult parts about Gen X can sometimes be their lack of optimism or relationship focused. They can see their work as “just a job” and have seen enough to roll their eyes at the cyclical nature of new leadership and their “optimism”. They are very task-oriented which leads them to be a bit more short-term focused than big-picture focused. They aren’t interested in meetings and don’t value much face-time.

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Okay, so to make it work with Gen X I’ve got a few tips. First, be straight-forward and honest with them ALWAYS. If they feel they’re being left out of the loop or have reason to be suspicious you lose their respect. Show them value and respect by not wasting their time. Don’t call them into unnecessary meetings and don’t micromanage their processes of getting their work done. Make sure you give them opportunities to learn and grow the skills they need to get their jobs done well and efficiently. Let them know when they’re doing a good job with facts and not fluff. Reward them with time off and flexibility. Encourage a fun working environment and value their lives outside of the office.

If you are the Gen X’er in the workplace, a few tips for you as well. Try to have patience with your Boomer and Millennial counterparts who value face-time and relationships in the workplace. Know that “team-building” isn’t necessarily a time-waster and try to keep an open mind. Try to sandwich your direct feedback with what you may deem “fluff” to soften up your more sensitive generations in the workplace. But never change your focus on work-life balance and hold that hard line between working during work hours and not during your personal time – you’ve definitely had that right all along!

So what now?

Use this article to start a conversation with a Gen X’er in your workplace (or another generation if you are a Gen X’er!). Work through and see what holds true for your Gen X team member and what doesn’t – these are groupings after all, and your team member is a unique individual! When you’re done, share with me in the comments what stood up and what did not!

Come back next week to hear more about Millennials!

Talk soon,

Nikki

PS – check out this awesome table about generations in the workplace!