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The Generation X Workforce – Education, Characteristics & Management

Today’s American workforce has four distinct generations working side-by-side: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z. For a company to succeed, all must coexist productively. Every generation offers distinctly different challenges, strengths and work styles. The key to working with a multigenerational workforce is understanding the needs and expectations of each generation to leverage the combined potential of the group. Gen Y (Millennials) and Gen Z are the talk of the town. But what about those that came before them? Let’s break down the generation that came before the notorious Millennials: the Gen Xers. In the following article we’ll be diving into Generation X education statistics and characteristics, as well as how to hire, manage, motivate and retain Gen Xers in the workplace.


What is Generation X? – The span of Generation X years fall between 1965 – 1979. That means the members of Generation X age ranges are from 41 through 55. Quite often, these people find themselves squarely in the midst of adult responsibilities on two fronts. Many are simultaneously raising their own children while providing at least some level of care for aging parents. They have the means to do so, with an estimated income of $50,400, about 8 percent higher than the national average and more than either Baby Boomers ($46,340) or Generation Y ($34,430). However, even when excluding mortgages, Gen Xers walk a fine line with their finances — they hold the highest debt levels and bankcard balances compared to both their older and younger cohorts. Gen Xers spend more on housing, clothing, dining out and meals at home than Baby Boomers and Generation Y, and only trail Boomers by a small margin in entertainment outlays. Often described as “working to live,” they have a corresponding career need to produce sustainable, growing income over time.


Twenty percent of Generation X women and 18 percent of Gen X men had completed at least a bachelor’s degree at ages 18-33, placing them between Boomers (lower) and Generation Y (higher) in terms of educational attainment. The timing of their job market entry coincided with the rise of digital technologies and communications, positioning them well to apply offline as well as online skills and to relate effectively with other employees in multigenerational workplaces. Although their resume may show job changes every three to five years, Gen Xers are consistently valued as problem-solvers along their career arc. In fact, they’re in the sweet spot for leadership, holding more than two-thirds of CEO positions in Inc. 500 firms.


Some of the best Generation X traits are that these employees are independent, resourceful, nose-to-the grindstone workers. They respond well to freedom and responsibility in the workplace. Nonetheless, having grown up when many of their parents lost jobs due to recessionary downsizing, they don’t place much trust in companies to look out for their welfare. At the same time, they adapt well to change and like to learn new skills. Overall, to Generation X, work life balance is important.

Generation X characteristics

Generation X makes up approximately 60% of the US workforce



Gen X workers embody an appealing mix of past experience and productive output still ahead. What’s more, even if currently employed, they’re receptive to new opportunities. An estimated 76 percent use online resources, including social media tools, to look for jobs. Gen Xers expect quick response after an initial job connection has been made, just like Millennials do.


Generation X employees are known to have excellent do-it-yourself attitudes. This is often attributed to growing up with both parents in the workforce, forcing them to be able to take care of themselves. Growing up this way ingrained valuable traits in these employees, like being independent, resourceful, and extremely self reliant. Micromanaging is not the way to oversee Gen Xers. If you’ve hired a Gen X employee and want them to perform well, the best thing to do is practice an open management style, allowing them to problem solve and work independently.


For Generation X, work values that are deemed important include things like workplace flexibility. They’re more likely than Boomers and Generation Y to leave their current position due to lack of flexibility. Gen Xers look for family-friendly schedules with flex-time, telecommuting and job-sharing options rather than tenure-based rewards.


Generation X employees want to impact the organization that hired them more than they want job stability, recognition or even promotion opportunities. As such, Gen Xers may be especially inspired by bonuses that directly link pay to business results.1 It’s also important to allow Gen Xers to work independently because they value having control over their day-to-day activities. A company-sponsored entrepreneurial venture may be a great spot for Generation X individuals to showcase their abilities without being micro-managed.

Once you get to know your Gen Xers, you should have a good idea of what types of rewards and motivation each one will appreciate. Do they prefer to be recognized officially or personally; formally or informally; publicly or privately? Would they like a gift, a note, or just some simple verbal praise? Also, take into account what they did to deserve your recognition. An employee who just completed a rigorous two-month project deserves a more substantial reward than an employee who stayed late for a night or two. No matter what you do, make sure you take the time to customize your reward — when you put some thought into how you say “thanks,” your people will value it even more.

To get a full picture of the current multigenerational workforce, check out our white paper.


Accounting Principals

We're Accounting Principals--a leader in finance and accounting staffing. In fact, since 2010, we've been part of Adecco Group, a Global 500 company and leader in staffing services around the world. But this isn't staffing as usual. We take quite a different approach than most staffing agencies. A people-focused approach. We believe in forming real relationships with both our clients and our candidates. We want to understand the needs on both sides.