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Generation X in the Workplace: 2022 Study

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Generation X in the Workplace: 2022 Study

Generation X.

Sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials. The neglected middle child. Often considered the Forgotten Generation. 

Born roughly in the years 1965–1980, Gen Xers witnessed some of the world’s greatest advancements and historical moments. The fall of the Berlin Wall, space exploration, the birth of the first personal home computer, and the development of the Internet. And the list goes on.

Gen X was the first generation to grow up after the civil rights movement. For many of its members, the ideas of equality and diversity are as natural as breathing. What’s also noteworthy, Gen Xers received a better education than previous generations.

There are plenty of good reasons not to forget about Generation X. Here are a few of them:

  • According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast, Gen Xers hold over 50% of all leadership roles. And they keep expanding their footprint as managers.
  • 2020 Consumer Expenditure Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that Gen X members earn more money than any other generation.
  • CNBC reports that Generation X, not Millennials, is the one leading digital transformation in the workplace. Also, Gen X is the most connected generation of all.

As you can see, it's not all about Millennials, Boomers, and Gen Z. High time to turn the spotlight on Gen X members. Let’s give them the attention they deserve.

At Zety, we surveyed over 850 Gen Xers to examine:

Keep reading to discover what our study revealed.

Characteristics of Generation X at work

Generation X in the Workplace: 2022 Study

First things first. To start with, we asked respondents what they considered to be the defining characteristics of Generation X in the workplace.  We gave our respondents a list of characteristics and asked them to choose up to two options.

  • We value work-life balance – 28% [32% females vs. 25% males]
  • We communicate openly and honestly in the workplace – 26%
  • We value professional development – 23%
  • We work well collaboratively – 23%
  • We are open to feedback – 23%
  • We are flexible and adapt well to change – 22%
  • We are independent and autonomous – 22%
  • We are tech-savvy but not tech-dependent – 19%

Work-life balance and open, honest communication. Sounds promising. Let’s dig deeper.

Secretly or not, people love generational battles. It’s a guilty pleasure we all share. Comparison time, then.

We asked Gen Xers to compare themselves with Generation Z (people born after 1996), Millennials (1981–1996), and Baby Boomers (1946–1964). In short, our respondents believed their generation is, to quote Tina Turner, simply the best. Members of Generation X claimed that they:

  • Had a better work ethic than Generation Z (82%), Millennials (78%), and Baby Boomers (70%).
  • Were more independent than Generation Z (78%), Millennials (76%), and Baby Boomers (77%).
  • Were more entrepreneurial than Generation Z (75%), Millennials (75%), and Baby Boomers (77%).

Also, 73% of Gen Xers declared they were less competitive than other generations.

No rat race, no worries. No one to compete with anyway. The winner takes it all.

Moral, autonomous, resourceful. Dream employees. According to Diogenes, “Modesty is the color of virtue.” But we’re not here to talk about colors. Or Greek philosophers, right?

Interestingly, the study revealed disparities in answers given within the demographic group based on personal annual income. Some findings to mention at this point:

  • People earning less than $25,000 a year were less likely to claim that Gen X had a better work ethic than Gen Z than those earning more than $75,000 (67% vs. 87%, respectively).
  • Additionally, 55% of survey takers with lower earnings considered Generation X “less competitive than other generations.” The percentage increased to 74% in the case of participants with higher incomes.

We also asked if, in the pop culture clash of generations, Generation X was the forgotten generation. In that instance, almost 8 in 10(79%) of the surveyed agreed. 

Now, let’s have a close look at the choices Gen Xers (would) make.

A matter of choice | Gen X & workplace preferences

Generation X in the Workplace: 2022 Study

As Albert Camus once said, “Life is a sum of all your choices.” The same rule applies to work life. We wanted to examine what mattered most to Gen Xers and discover their workplace preferences.

Asked to choose between two options, respondents replied as follows:

  • Doing meaningful work—71% vs. earning a lot of money—29%.
  • Exciting tasks—52% vs. stable employment—48%.
  • Job satisfaction—84% vs. job prestige—16%.
  • Family—78% vs. Career—22%.

Additionally, almost 7 in 10 (69%) respondents would choose to be faithful to themselves rather than get a higher salary. They’d accept a lower salary to work for an employer with values that match theirs.

Overall, the answers given by the respondents create a bigger picture of employees who work for a higher cause, value job satisfaction, and seek meaningfulness in their actions. Keep it up, guys!

Let’s focus on more practical professional life choices now. We asked survey takers a series of questions about how they like to work. Here are the research findings:

  • 40% of respondents claimed they preferred remote work and 45% on-site work. To 15%, it wouldn’t make any difference if they worked remotely or on-site.
  • More than half (52%) of the surveyed Gen Xers chose teamwork as their favorite form of work, while 40% liked individual work better. At the same time, to 8% of respondents, it would make no difference if they worked in a team or individually.

When it comes to a preferred method of communicating with colleagues at work, the answers were as follows:

  • In-person – 33%
  • Email – 22%
  • Phone – 26%
  • Slack (or other messaging apps) – 7%
  • Zoom (or other video conferencing) – 12%

What’s noteworthy, almost half (46%) of Gen Xers working in the manufacturing sector claimed their favorite workplace communication method was in-person communication. Additionally, 34% of respondents from the business and finance industry chose phone calls.

Next, we focused on what Gen X really wants from their employer and workplace.

Values & expectations toward the workplace

Generation X in the Workplace: 2022 Study

Let’s find out what Generation X expected from the workplace and what they valued most in their professional life.

We asked a few questions about Gen Xers' motivations, priorities, feelings toward the job they do, and more. Please note the differences between answers given by female and male respondents [in the brackets].

The big question. What do Gen Xers value most?

  • Job security – 35% [40% females vs. 30% males]
  • Work-life balance – 34%
  • High earnings – 26%
  • Flexibility – 26%
  • Doing meaningful work – 24%
  • Job prestige – 24%
  • Positive atmosphere at work – 21% [24% females vs. 18% males]
  • Decent management – 19%
  • Effective communication – 18% [15% females vs. 21% males]
  • Chances for growth – 18%

Job security, work-life balance, high earnings, and flexibility seem to be the Gen X recipe for living a professional life happily ever after. Let’s move on to the most desirable benefits.

  • Health insurance – 27%
  • Flexible working options – 21%
  • Remote working options – 17%
  • Retirement plans – 14%
  • Wellness programs – 12%
  • Paid time off – 9%

Care for your health seems universal for all generations, nations, and industries. Not a great discovery, to be honest.

But—

Have a look at the role of flexibility for Generation X.

Let’s move on to Gen X members’ motivation to work. Asked what motivated them to work, our helpful participants answered as follows [*they could choose two options at most]:

  • Family duties – 27%
  • Money – 25%
  • Social status – 22%
  • Passion – 20%
  • Ambition – 19%
  • A sense of purpose in life – 19% [21% females vs. 17% males]
  • Making a difference – 17%
  • People I work with – 17% [14% females vs. 20% males]
  • Recognition – 16%

As you can see, for Gen X, the family goes first. The choice of family duties as the main motivation to work suggests a strong sense of responsibility. That's something Gen Xers may take pride in.

We also wanted to know what could prompt respondents to leave their current job. Here are the main reasons [*they could choose two options at most]:

  • Having to work overtime regularly – 26%
  • Toxic work environment – 26% [28% females vs. 23% males]
  • Doing meaningless work – 24%
  • Poor work-life balance – 23%
  • Inability to advance within the company – 23%
  • Lack of professional development opportunities – 22%
  • Low salary – 21%
  • Poor management – 18% [15% females vs. 21% males]

Having to work overtime regularly? Not an option. It just opposes what Gen X needs so badly—work-life balance. A toxic work environment seemed equally harmful to the surveyed.

Moving on, we asked respondents how likely it was that they would consider leaving their employer over a clash of values in society’s pressing issues (e.g., racial justice, gender equality). For a full 76% it would be likely or very likely.

The last question regarded expectations toward a manager. Asked, “If you could choose your next manager, what work-related behaviors, qualities, and personality traits would matter the most to you?” survey takers answered as follows [*they could choose two options at most]:

  • Good communication and listening skills – 30% [33% females vs. 27% males]
  • Strong coaching skills – 26%
  • Ability to share knowledge – 23%
  • Ability to empower my colleagues and me – 21%
  • Timely and regular recognition – 18% [16% females vs. 21% males]
  • Timely and regular feedback – 18%
  • Being an expert in the field they manage – 18%
  • Concern for my well-being – 16%
  • Transparent performance criteria and objective evaluation – 15%

No surprise. If you’re a great communicator yourself, you do want your manager to possess strong communication and listening skills. The natural order of things.

Also, Gen Xers are known for their willingness to learn and develop professionally, which makes it clear why they expect coaching skills and the ability to share knowledge from their supervisor. Fair enough.

Professional life priorities & work-related emotions

Generation X in the Workplace: 2022 Study

Willing to understand Gen X professional priorities, we asked research participants what things they personally found important in work life. The issues of the greatest importance to Gen Xers were the following:

  • a sense of purpose – 86%
  • job satisfaction – 85%
  • job meaningfulness – 85%
  • a high salary – 82%
  • a sense of contributing to society – 81%
  • an opportunity to help other people – 81%
  • a prestigious profession – 78%

A sense of purpose, job satisfaction, and job meaningfulness turned out to be the most essential aspects of Gen X work life. Let’s have a look at how our respondents felt about their job.

  • Almost 9 in 10 (89%) participants claimed they liked their job, 84% felt their work was meaningful, and 82% were satisfied with what they did. Positive indeed.
  • On a negative note, the group of respondents with the lowest personal annual income (less than $25,000) were noticeably less pleased with their professional life. 74% declared they liked their job, 70% found their work meaningful, and only 66% felt a sense of job satisfaction.

Well, even if money doesn’t rule the world, we cannot live without it. Low earnings feel especially painful in these economically disturbing times.

It is, therefore, crucial to separate private life from professional life. Gen X knows how to do that. Keep reading to check it out yourself.

The role of work-life balance for Gen Xers

Generation X in the Workplace: 2022 Study

Let’s focus on the role of work-life balance for Gen Xers.

  • Almost 9 in 10 (86%) participants agreed work-life balance was important to them.
  • But despite this, as many as 82% of respondents admitted they worked more than “officially” required by their job role.
  • Asked, “How often do you work while on vacation? This includes any work-related task, such as checking and answering emails.”, 38% of survey takers claimed they did it “sometimes”. Only 4% declared they never worked while on vacation.
  • On a positive note, 82% of participants said that enjoyed socializing with their colleagues after work.

Gen Xers value work-life balance, no doubt about it. And they desire to know how to balance their work and family lives. Still, at some points, the data shows a disconnect between their attitude and reality.

They not only work hard, but they also play hard, it seems.

What do Gen Xers bring to the workplace?

Generation X in the Workplace: 2022 Study

Now that we know what Generation X expects from the workplace, it’s time to change the perspective. What does Gen X have to offer at work? Asked about their top professional skills, respondents chose the following:

  • 1st – Communication skills
  • 2nd – Analytical thinking
  • 3rd – Problem-solving
  • 4th – Logical thinking
  • 5th – Researching information

Communication skills rated as Gen X’s greatest strength may be one of the reasons why so many members of this generation occupy managerial positions. After all, the way we communicate is critical to our success at work and beyond.

In our previous study on Top Skills Employers Look For in 2022, recruiters and hiring managers agreed that a candidate’s soft skills were more important than their hard skills (61% vs. 39%, respectively). What’s more, they ranked communication (55%) as the second most essential workplace skill and problem-solving (45%) as the fourth.

Entrepreneurial, purpose-driven mindset and combination of precious soft skills will always be in-demand. Gen Xers make perfect candidates for many different positions across various industries. They are very employable, basically.

Okay, let’s move on to the final section of our survey, where Gen Xers could share comments on their generation at work

In their own eyes

Self-reflection time. We asked surveyed Gen Xers to tell us what their generation brought to the workplace. Here’s what we got:

  • Knowledge, experience, and eagerness to learn.
  • A strong work ethic, diligence, and commitment to the job.
  • Discipline, getting things done timely and without complaining
  • Logical thinking and analytical skills.
  • A critical, thoughtful perspective to problem-solving.
  • Ability to adapt easily to any circumstances.
  • Thinking out of the box, innovative ideas, creativity.
  • Excellence at multitasking.
  • Maturity and a high level of professionalism.
  • Sense of responsibility and pride in what they are doing.
  • Focus on professional development and lifelong learning.
  • Positive vibes.

Let’s dig deeper to understand better.

Dropping the mike. The floor is yours, dear Gen Xers.

“Because we grew up mostly before the advent of the Internet (we got the Internet at my school when I was 17), I think generation X brings a more balanced approach to the workplace. We love technology and are fortunate to have seen it develop to this level in our lifetimes, but we remember what it was like to just play outside and ride our bikes as kids, with no concern or consideration for wifi or social media. Because of this, I think we bring a more holistic, flexible approach to work and life in general.”
“We bring determination to get a job done, and we go above and beyond to achieve this goal. I notice the newer generations give up too easily if they're not pleased with anything in the workplace, they throw in the towel and quit.”
“We have the work ethic of Boomers and the entrepreneurial spirit of later generations. We're the bridge between those before and now.”
“Because we've never really sought out the spotlight, or at least had the spotlight for long, we've learned to do things for ourselves without needing to constantly be checked and micro-managed. Just give us something to do, let us do it, and if we need help, we'll ask for it. I think in spite of being called slackers early on, we are hard-working and likely to be loyal if we find the right fit in a job.”
“I believe members of Gen X are diligent workers who don't complain much. We want to get our work done so we can go home and enjoy our lives. We don't cause drama in the workplace. We are reliable with good work ethics.”
“I think that we were abandoned as children so we were forced to become adaptable and independent. That mindset allows us to be self-motivated and flexible, but it can also make it difficult to collaborate or empathize with others.”
“No nonsense “get it done” attitude. We commit to a goal and we make sure that it is completed. Even if we get paid by the hour, we work at a steady pace to get projects completed. We don't like loose ends, we like things to be finished.”
“A sense of commitment and duty to do the job we are tasked with and do it well. We are tech-savvy but not tech-reliant for everything. We enjoy learning new things but also respect the old ways of doing things.”

Straddling two worlds, pre- and post-technology, Generation X members have seen computers and the Internet from the start. But they also remember a PC-free reality, which makes them more flexible, adaptive, and independent.

Having a strong work ethic, moral compass, and heads full of innovative ideas, Gen Xers are a workplace treasure chest. At the same time, they work to live, not live to work.

You better remember the forgotten.

Key takeaways

Let’s sum up what our study on Generation X in the workplace revealed.

  • Gen Xers chose communication, analytical thinking, and problem-solving as their top professional skills.
  • 82% of respondents believed Generation X had a better work ethic than Generation Z.
  • 76% claimed they would consider leaving their employer over a clash of values in society’s pressing issues (e.g., racial justice, gender equality).
  • In the workplace, 35% (40% females vs. 30% males) valued job security the most.
  • 84% would choose job satisfaction over job prestige. Also, for a full 71%, doing meaningful work was more important than earning a lot of money.
  • Almost 9 in 10 (86%) claimed that a sense of purpose was essential to them in work life.
  • 79% agreed that in the pop culture clash of generations, Generation X was the forgotten generation.

Methodology

The findings presented were obtained by surveying 862 American respondents representing Generation X. They were asked questions relating to Gen Xers’ professional life—their workplace values, priorities, expectations, and more. These included yes/no questions, scale-based questions relating to levels of agreement with a statement, questions that permitted the selection of multiple options from a list of potential answers, and a question that permitted open responses. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question.

Limitations

The data we are presenting relies on self-reports from respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. We acknowledge there are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, telescoping, attribution, or exaggeration.

Sources

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About Zety’s Editorial Process

This article has been reviewed by our editorial team to make sure it follows Zety's editorial guidelines. We’re committed to sharing our expertise and giving you trustworthy career advice tailored to your needs. High-quality content is what brings over 40 million readers to our site every year. But we don't stop there. Our team conducts original research to understand the job market better, and we pride ourselves on being quoted by top universities and prime media outlets from around the world.

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Jacques Buffett, CPRW
Jacques, a Certified Professional Résumé Writer (CPRW), is a career expert who has published almost 200 articles on Zety. His insights and advice have been published by LinkedIn, Forbes, MSN, Yahoo!, Business Insider, AOL, U.S. News, and other top news outlets. He also has extensive professional experience in people management and recruitment.
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