Generation X In The Workplace: Bridging The Gap

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The term “generation” generally refers to a group of people who were born and grew up during a specific time period. Due to shifting societal values, each generation is raised in a different cultural context and will consequently have different needs and views on various aspects of life. In the vast majority of workplaces, several generations will likely be regularly collaborating. Understanding more about each age group’s typical values and attitudes toward work can make it easier for colleagues and management to promote positive communication, harmony, and productivity as a result. Let’s take a look at Generation X, or Gen X, in particular, and what they’re likely to need to function well at work. 

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Understanding the common characteristics of Generation X

Generation X is also known as the “latchkey generation,” due to Gen X children and young adults having a perceived lack of adult supervision after school, while their parents were away at work, during their formative years. According to the Pew Research Center, those who belong to Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980. This makes them the first generation after Baby Boomers (people born during the “baby boom” between 1945 and 1964) but before the Millennial generation. To gain insight into how Gen Xers typically function at work, it can be helpful to grasp what sets them apart from other generations.

The following are traits and characteristics typically associated with the so-called “latchkey kids” of Generation X:

  • They may be independent, resourceful, and adaptable, with a strong sense of self-reliance.
  • They are likely to value maintaining a work-life balance, may be skeptical of authority, and may often view work as just "a job to get done”.
  • Some—especially those born later in the range—will possess digital literacy and be tech-savvy because they grew up with the onset of personal computers and technology.

Other notable characteristics of Americans born during this period may include a prevalence of single-parent households and a relatively high household income (although the Baby Boomer generation still holds the largest portion of the nation’s wealth). They are likely to have witnessed the ups and downs of economic life, having lived through multiple recessions, and they may experience challenges managing their cash flow.

Differences between Gen X and other generations

  • Compared to Baby Boomers, Generation Xers tend to be less interested in traditional hierarchies and status symbols.
  • They may also be more comfortable with change and ambiguity than those in the boomer generation, and less likely to rely on established institutions and systems.
  • Compared to Millennials, Generation Xers are likely to prefer to focus on quality time and efficiency at work rather than long hours.
  • They also tend to be more self-reliant and less interested in collaborative work, preferring a more independent and self-directed approach.

Challenges Gen Xers may face in the workplace

One of the main challenges a Gen Xer may face at work typically comes from feeling "sandwiched" between older and younger generations. Generation Xers may find it difficult to relate to the different priorities and goals of both their older and younger colleagues, potentially leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection. This gap between Gen X, the Baby Boomer generation, Millennials, and Generation Z may create tension and misunderstandings, as the various generations are likely to have different communication styles, work ethics, and expectations for the workplace. 

Another challenge Generation X may face in the workplace is a lack of mentorship and guidance from older generations. Many Baby Boomers have retired or are nearing retirement, leaving Generation X without the same level of advice and support that previous generations might have had. Generation Xers may also find limited opportunities for advancement in the job market, as they may be viewed as "too experienced" for entry-level positions and "too junior" for some senior roles. As a result, many Gen X employees may feel stuck in their current positions, leading to disengagement, dissatisfaction, and demotivation.

These challenges may negatively impact the engagement, satisfaction, and productivity of Gen X workers. Their sense of disconnection from their colleagues may lead them to have trouble building relationships and working effectively as a team. A lack of mentorship and limited opportunities for advancement might lead to feelings of stagnation and disinterest in their work, resulting in disengagement and decreased productivity. Additionally, feeling overlooked and unsupported in the workplace may also negatively affect their job satisfaction, leading to lower motivation overall and a decreased or absent sense of purpose. 


Strategies for supporting Gen Xers in the workplace

Taking steps to design a more supportive and inclusive work environment may help employers and managers support Gen X employees in overcoming many of these challenges. Here are a few ideas.

Offer mentorship and development opportunities

Organizations might consider providing mentorship and coaching opportunities for Generation X employees to better support their professional growth and development. For example, they might pair them with experienced mentors from older generations who can provide guidance and advice. Investing in training and development programs that focus on the unique needs of Generation X may also be worthwhile, such as leadership development and digital skills training.

Provide flexibility and work-life balance

As mentioned previously, Gen Xers may place a higher premium on flexibility and finding a balance between their careers and their personal lives. Organizations that can support this in meaningful ways are likely to reap the benefits. For example, offering flexible working arrangements such as remote work options, adequate paid time off, and flexible hours may help increase Gen X employee engagement and promote greater job satisfaction and productivity.

Create a collaborative and inclusive workplace

Encouraging open communication among colleagues is another way companies can create an environment that’s more inclusive of multiple generations. They might offer a variety of different mediums through which coworkers can connect and communicate. They might also promote intergenerational teamwork, providing opportunities for young people and older employees to collaborate on projects together and learn from each other.

Recognize and reward their unique contributions

It may also help to make a specific effort to recognize and reward the valuable contributions of employees of all different ages, not just the promising newcomers or the long-standing veterans. This could provide opportunities for career advancement and leadership roles for Gen Xers and implement reward and recognition programs that can provide meaningful benefits in exchange for impactful work. 

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Invest in learning about the unique values of Generation X

Encourage or offer mental health support

According to a survey whose results were explored in a Harvard Business Review article, employers who support mental health initiatives for employees are likely to benefit—as are, of course, the employees. The article relates that respondents who felt supported by their employer in terms of mental health were less likely to experience mental health symptoms, underperform at work, or miss work, and were more likely to have higher job satisfaction, higher intention to stay at their company, and a more positive view of their company and its leadership. That’s why organizations might consider offering a more supportive environment and benefits related to mental health that employees can enjoy. This approach can be helpful to Generation X employees as well as workers from other generations. 

Options for online therapy

One way that Gen Xers or those of any other age group can seek available, more affordable mental healthcare is through online therapy. Research suggests that it can offer similar benefits to in-person sessions but without the travel time or high costs of an office visit. A therapist can help individuals address any mental health issues that they may be experiencing—although those with these specific concerns aren’t the only ones who can benefit. A trained therapist can offer anyone valuable, nonjudgmental support in whatever challenges they may be facing, whether related to work or other areas of life. A virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp is one way to get started since clients can get matched with a licensed therapist based on their answers to a quick questionnaire about their specific needs and preferences.


Each generation may have somewhat different needs and expectations when it comes to their jobs. Employers can enjoy a healthier, more productive workforce if they consider these differences. Understanding the points outlined here about common traits and attitudes among Generation X workers may be a helpful starting place.

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