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April 5, 2024

Understanding Generation X in the workplace

Discover strategies that motivate Gen Xers, promote employee engagement, and improve ROI.


  • Who is Gen X: What matters most to this group?
  • What makes Gen X employees unique?
  • How to motivate the Gen X workforce.

Generation X (Gen X) makes up 19% of the global population and 31% of the U.S. workforce. This age group represents a large portion of working Americans, meaning it’s essential that employers meet their needs and understand their health concerns.

Let’s look at Gen X in the workplace to discover what benefits are most important to them and what motivates them to produce their best work.

Who is Gen X and what matters most to them?

Anybody born between 1966 and 1980 is part of Gen X. The oldest individuals in the generation are nearing retirement at about 59, while the youngest are in their mid-forties. Raised by achievement-based Baby Boomers, Gen X generally rejects the idea that people must sacrifice for success. Unlike the previous generation, Gen Xers strive for a healthy relationship with work.

That said, the most important thing they look for in the workplace is a strong work-life balance. Gen X saw their parents and grandparents work long hours and sacrifice personal time to provide for their families—often staying loyal to a company even when unsatisfied.

While Gen Xers are hard-working employees, they don’t want to take their work home. They want to partner with a company that understands and values their passions, desires, and free time. Often, Generation X workers are quick to leave organizations if their needs are unmet and will resist change if it will impact their lives outside work. This is because they generally prioritize their personal and professional interests over the company.

Generation Xers are passionate about diversity and open to multiple perspectives on business decisions. They see the value of learning from those around them, including people of all races, economic statuses, religions, and sexual orientations.

Generation X workers appreciate a diverse workload, enabling them to accomplish different tasks and hone multiple skills. These go-getters are more likely to self-improve, seeking opportunities to learn about new topics and try different work experiences.

When it comes to their preferred communication style, they want direct, informal feedback. This could include email, text messages, or any other efficient and straightforward method.

What makes Gen X employees unique?

These historical events played a part in shaping Generation Xers into who they are today.

  • AIDS epidemic: This global epidemic began in 1981, impacting many older Gen Xers as they grew up. The outbreak spurred misinformation, fear, and hateful actions. It pushed this generation to desire a more cohesive and loving environment, both personally and professionally. This isn’t the only reason diversity is so critical for Gen X, but it did play a large role.

  • Fall of the Berlin Wall: Growing up in the late '80s, Gen X was exposed to information about the trouble and violence in Germany. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was an impactful event highlighting people's ability to come together to enact positive change.

  • Dot-Com bubble: Gen X came of age when technological innovation and usage boomed in the late 1990s. The value of internet companies grew and then popped in the early 2000s. This generation witnessed rapid internet growth, helping make them more willing to accept technological changes today.

  • Global financial crisis: As the crisis took hold in 2008, Gen X experienced layoffs, restructurings, reorganizations, and outsourcing possibly more than any other generation. This showed them how to be flexible and acquire a wide range of skills for adaptability.

Barriers between personal and work life

Growing up in a time when work was seen as a means to an end, Gen X tended to choose careers that let them prioritize their personal lives.

However, many individuals worry about their financial status. With several Gen Xers raising families, navigating student debt, and saving for retirement, it can be difficult for this generation to maintain a healthy schedule. Working more hours to afford a comfortable life for their families can lead to sacrificing their personal lives—a non-negotiable for any job they choose.

How to motivate the Gen X workforce

Enable Gen X professionals to produce high-quality, meaningful work while maintaining autonomy over their schedules with benefits they want, such as:

Remote work benefits

While they didn’t start with internet-based careers, Gen Xers fully embraced hybrid and remote work experiences—especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. With flexible work-from-home roles, Gen X feels more comfortable and supported by their employers. Remote options also give them more freedom, allowing them to go to appointments without using PTO, leave work early to attend important events for their kids, and work in a productive location.

Caregiving benefits

While this isn’t true for every Gen Xer, some care for older parents and need support. One in 5 full-time workers are family caregivers, providing care regularly to family members with a serious illness, developmental disorder, or disability.

Per the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, 73% of workers in a caregiving role had to leave work early or unexpectedly, and 52% lost income because they had to miss work. Those in leadership roles can provide financial and emotional support to fill the gap between time and money lost due to caregiving responsibilities.

Retirement planning

Although older Gen Xers are nearing retirement, many aren’t financially prepared. Companies can relieve stress by helping them get their finances in order and prepare retirement savings plans. Providing employer-sponsored retirement plans and financial well-being solutions can give employees the confidence to make informed decisions about their futures.

This also includes training and instructional help. Employers who walk alongside their employees are more likely to experience the benefits of a motivated and financially healthy workforce.

Competitive financial compensation

Gen X workers are the most anxious generation, reporting the lowest levels of hope compared to other generations. Thirty-two percent feel uncertain about their finances, while only 8% are happy about their economic situation.

Fair pay and benefits significantly boost this group’s job satisfaction more than any other generation. Delivering fair pay to all employees is crucial, especially since 70% of Gen X report being in credit card, mortgage, or home equity loan debt.


This generation is independent and has a unique way of doing things. They possess a strong entrepreneurial spirit and desire opportunities to flex it at work. Allowing Gen X more control over their roles and enabling them to be creative problem solvers can motivate them to stay engaged.

This could include exploring new technological advancements to streamline processes, providing training opportunities focused on topics that interest them, or enabling them to give constructive feedback on internal operations for better team performance.

How are the different generations similar?

Yes, most age groups want different benefits from those in leadership roles. But Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z employees see eye to eye in these areas:

Learn more about generational similarities and differences with Marsh McLennan Agency

You may be hosting a multigenerational workforce with various needs and desires. Get to know what makes each age group tick with the help of Marsh McLennan Agency.

Download our 2024 Employee Benefits Trends: The Evolving Workforce report to learn more about what Gen X employees want from their benefits. Our advisors can help set your company and employees up for a limitless future.