Career Corner: Generation X Characteristics in the Workplace

Understanding the traits that make Gen Xers tick at work. 
By Robin Reshwan, US News Contributor 

SANDWICHED BETWEEN BABY boomers and millennials, Generation Xers were born between 1965 and 1980 and represented 53 million workers in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A little-known fact is that the term Generation X came from a sociological book on American class structure titled "Class," by Paul Fussell. Gen Xers make up the second-largest portion of the current workforce, and are known for an entrepreneurial mindset and work hard, play hard thinking. Given the volume of employees in this category, understanding Gen X in the workplace is a topic of great importance to their managers, their co-workers or entry-level employees who work under them. Here are four common Gen X characteristics. 

Gen Xers Lead 
In the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, published by consulting firm DDI, nonprofit research group The Conference Board and professional services firm EY with support from CNBC, researchers revealed that a little over 50% of all leadership roles are held by Gen Xers – with more to come as baby boomers retire. Known for a willingness to take on new challenges, these employees have the tenure, people skills and experience to add value as leaders at work. Needing to pay for their kid's college tuition and their own mortgage with an impending cut to Social Security also fuels an interest in growing in their careers at a time when former generations were prepping for retirement. Motivation aside, these skilled employees are expanding their footprint as managers and leaders of projects, teams and businesses. 

They Are Digitally Connected 
Surveys conducted by Nielsen revealed that Gen X is the most connected generation based on the amount of time spent on digital/tech endeavors. While younger co-workers may be more social on the weekend, Gen Xers may be following up on an email, streaming a home improvement show or catching up on social media. 

Gen Xers know life before and after the tech boom – so this generation had to adapt to make it through the shift from paper to online. This hard-earned proficiency has resulted in confidence regarding the use of technology. According to Nielsen, 54% of Gen X respondents feel they are digitally savvy, which just slightly trailed the 56% of millennials feeling the same way. 

They Collaborate as a Way of Life 
Perhaps because the '80s was the last decade before the solo sport of "surfing the web" was created, Gen Xers are known for their ability to collaborate and work with others to get things done at work. The experience with face-to-face conversations and in-person conflict resolution gained during years without digital tools makes many Gen Xers comfortable in collaborative endeavors. A hallmark of success in this peer group is a network of relationships and a track record of reciprocating when the need arises. Working with people is a competency many Gen Xers leverage at work. 

They Seek Professional Development and Mentorship Outside of Work 
Gen Xers hire coaches – Kumon for early education, college admissions advisers, Pilates trainers for long-term fitness, etc. It makes sense that this generation is comfortable seeking professional coaching and mentorship outside of the walls of work. Successful Gen Xers know they must continue to evolve to stay relevant – so the extra investment in time and money to ensure their skills are top-notch has a high return. Look for these colleagues at industry conferences, professional development and continuing education events. The knowledge and the network gained through these experiences is what keeps Gen Xers in the game. 
The band Simple Minds had a bit of foreshadowing with their hit '80s song "Don't You (Forget About Me)." In a sea of media hype about Gen Z and millennials, the Gen Xers have been steadily making their move. The great news is that partnering with your Gen X colleagues can be both easy and beneficial. Relationship-focused and diligent, they appreciate others striving to do their best at work. Most are open to learning new digital tools and fully realize that they must continually adapt and increase efficiency to get more done and thrive professionally.

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