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Gen X: There’s no overlooking this “middle child” at work

Nov. 18, 2021
Sandwiched between boomers and millennials, Gen Xers have strong values and expect the same of their coworkers.

This is part four of Natalie Kaweckyj's series about the generations. Read more:
Generational differences in the workplace
What about the "silent generation"?
Boomers still want to be heard in the workplace

Generation X describes those born between the baby boomers and millennials, from 1965 to 1980. They’re sometimes referred to as the “middle child” generation due to being sandwiched between two large generational groups. Because of the smaller number of people, this group is often overlooked.

Generation Xers were the least parented group in American history because of dual income parents as well as high rates of divorce, which forced children to spend hours after school unsupervised. Most were graduating from college as the digital age hit. It is projected that there will be more Gen Xers than boomers by 2028.1

Who are Gen Xers?

Now middle-aged, Gen Xers form a large portion of executive level management, gaining seniority as boomers retire or cut back on working.2 Interestingly, Gen X is now described as the “settled and happy” generation, and they enjoyed the early fruits of the boom of the digital age.2

Influences of the generation. Gen Xers were influenced by many world events, including the dot-com boom, the energy crisis, first generation of latchkey kids, Y2K, activism, corporate downsizing, and increased divorce rates. Their perceptions are shaped by having to take care of themselves growing up, watching their politicians lie, and seeing their parents get laid off. Gen Xers came of age when the United States was losing its status as the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world, and they’re the first generation that will not do as well financially as their parents did. 

Core values and attributes. The core values of Gen Xers include balance, diversity, and entrepreneurship. They like having fun and are highly educated and have very high job expectations. They’re suspicious of boomer values and prefer to think globally and focus on results. Training enhances Gen Xers versatility in the marketplace and investment in their futures, however, they’re not necessarily loyal to the company that trained them. 

Workplace views. Gen X has the strongest association with organizational commitment, and while not everyone loves their job, if it funds a comfortable lifestyle then they will remain.2 The ideology of teenage Gen Xers has largely been replaced.2 As children of parents who are boomer workaholics, Gen Xers focus on clear balance between work and family. They don’t worry about losing their place within the team hierarchy if they take time off. They work smarter and with greater output, and do not work longer hours. 

What are they looking for in a position? 

The less supervision and greater autonomy Gen Xers are given, the more they’re willing to do the tasks asked of them. Task orientation for Gen Xers is very much tied to autonomy as motivation.2 Gen Xers are comfortable using technology and online recruitment and hiring tools, but they're also comfortable with face-to-face interactions.3 They look for dynamic young leaders who know how to use cutting-edge systems and technology. They enjoy the forward thinking of an organization and love flexible schedules. If a Gen Xer cannot see the reason for a task, they will question it. Work environment challenges are a must because if they aren’t engaged, they’ll seek another position. 

Keys to working with Generation Xers

Gen Xers value bonuses and stock as monetary rewards and flexibility as a nonmonetary reward. This generation prefers to work independently and believes career progression should be based on competence, not rank, age, or seniority. The type of rewards they favor are recognition from the boss, gift cards, experiential rewards, and flexible schedules.4 Gen Xers tend to view everyone as equal and are not impressed with authority. They’re not afraid to give feedback, and it’s important to them to receive relevant insight on their performance in a timely manner. Don’t wait for a formalized meeting to exchange feedback. They’re open to receiving information via email, text, or face-to-face. To fire up their motivators, such as work-life balance, say, “I believe doing it your way will help us beat our deadline.”5 Gen Xers prefer individual emphasis at work, flexibility to manage their workload, and greater physical and psychological space.3 

Career development. A variety of development opportunities are important to Gen Xers. They view training and development as “upgrading themselves to encounter the challenges” of the workplace.2 They want learning and development opportunities to help develop their careers. They take a proactive approach to career development through more degrees and experiences, both within and out of the organization. While some may view this as being disloyal to the company, Gen Xers see it as being loyal to themselves. 

The bottom line about this group

Gen Xers want independence and informality in the workplace, and they want to have fun at work with the latest technology. They need their managers to appreciate that they have a life, and they’re more efficient doing one task at a time. They’re eager to improve and they expect team members to follow through.

Tune in to subsequent articles as we explore the uniqueness of each generational group, with the millennials up next time in generational dynamics in dentistry.

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting Digest newsletter. To subscribe, visit dentistryiq.com/subscribe.


1 Generation X. Living Facts. https://www.livingfacts.org/en/articles/2020/generation-x

2 Wilkinson D. What motivates Generation X at work: new research. Accessed October 26, 2021.  https://oxford-review.com/generation-x-motivation/

3 How to manage the 5 generations in the workplace. Paychex. Updated July 26, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://www.paychex.com/articles/human-resources/how-to-manage-multiple-generations-in-the-workplace

4 Gurchiek K. What motivates your workers? It depends on their generation. SHRM. May 9, 2016. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/what-motivates-your-workers-it-depends-on-their-generation.aspx

5 Dan R. Motivational drivers by generation. Forbes. July 30, 2018. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2018/07/30/motivational-drivers-by-generation/?sh=56ba0b9d6b3f

About the Author

Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA

Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA, CDA, RF, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAA, is a senior moderator of the Dental Peeps Network and a past president of the ADAA.