What Motivates Generation X in the Workplace?

Gen-Xers often want work-life balance and immediate rewards.
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Generation X, born roughly between 1965 and 1980, makes up approximately 38 percent of today’s workforce, according to a report prepared for the Professional Convention Management Association in 2008. Ranging in age from the early 30s to the late 40s, these were the latch-key kids whose baby boomer parents worked long hours. Raised in an era when technology was common but family life took a backseat, Generation X has a very different idea of what constitutes a carrot than the generations who came before or after them.

What Gen-Xers Want

    Generation X has some specific workplace characteristics and core values that affect its members' motivations. Gen-Xers value work-life balance and want immediate feedback or rewards, according to "Fairleigh Dickinson University Magazine Online." Independent and often entrepreneurial, they focus on completing tasks rather than how many hours they put in. One message a Gen-Xer loves to hear is “Do it your way.” They want stimulation, flexibility and a reasonable salary, but money is not a major motivator for this group. Loyalty isn’t a major value for Gen-Xers, either, and they will switch jobs readily if they like another company’s carrots better than yours.

Stimulation and Flexibility

    If you want to keep your Gen-Xers happy on the job, give them something challenging and let them arrange their own work hours to complete the project. An article in the January 2006 issue of "Fortune" reports 77 percent of Gen-Xers would quit immediately for a job that offered increased stimulation, 51 percent would leave for a job that allowed them to telecommute and 61 percent of female Gen-Xers would switch jobs for more flexible hours. Gen-Xers also want collegial working relationships, interesting tasks and the ability to keep learning.

Challenges and Goals

    Put a Gen-Xer in a routine job with little stimulation and nit-picky workmates, and odds are high she will be out of there on the next train. She isn’t afraid of hard work, but she wants to play, too. Gen-Xers had to fend for themselves since Mom and Dad spent so much time at work – they want to make their own decisions. Give a Gen-Xer a goal that will require she learn something new, let her call the shots on how she achieves it and stand back. While she’s working on that one, you’d better be thinking of the next challenge.


    Gen-Xers appreciate feedback, so mentoring is a great way to motivate them, but it must be mentoring on their terms. Younger Gen-Xers in particular will benefit from mentoring, as long as they don’t feel you are micro-managing or giving them rigid rules to follow. Spend enough time to build the relationship but don’t hover like an anxious father whose teen-aged daughter is starting to date. Feedback should be immediate and clear. If you have the authority, small monetary rewards at milestones in the process will probably be more effective than a bonus at the end of the year -– it’s that immediate gratification thing.

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