Leadership / Management | Organizational Development | Training & CPE

Defining the generations: Who are the Xers?

XersOur series on generational differences marches on. So far, we've determined that the "matures" define success through loyalty and longevity, while the baby boomers tend to take a workaholic's approach -- the more you work, the more successful you are.

Now, let's turn the spotlight on Generation X. The Xers were born between 1965 and 1977, and in terms of numbers, they're the smallest generation in the workforce. According to generational expert Cam Marston, they also represent a shift in attitudes about work. Consider the characteristics of typical Xers:

  • They often question authority.
  • They don't believe they'll spend their entire career with one employer.
  • They can be cynical, pessimistic and very self-reliant.
  • Their time horizons are shorter than those for boomers. They think in terms of "right now."
  • They tend to be suspicious of boomers' values.
  • Time is a currency they are reluctant to share or give away.
  • "Carpe diem" is a notion that rings true with many Xers.
  • They're nomadic workers who simply go to work, do their jobs and go home.
  • They have a "prove it to me" attitude.

Xers are not likely to accept an employer's word at face value. They come to the office with pre-existing walls that need to be broken down. Doing so, though, can be extremely rewarding, says Marston.

"When I ask leaders who their least favorite generation is in their workplace, no one has ever said anything but, 'Generation X.' They all respond the same way: 'They are the most difficult people we have to work with,'" he said. "Then I ask them, 'Who is the most loyal generation in your workplace?' They all answer the same way: 'Generation X.' There's a shell there, but once you pierce it, Xers can be the most loyal employers you have."

Next up: Generation Y, a.k.a. the "millennials." First, though, tell us what you think. Employers, what's your impression of your Xers? For you Xers out there, do the characteristics listed above ring true?


Bill Sheridan