How to Retain Gen X Employees and Why You Want To


Just about every recent article about managing employees is focused on the Millennials. It’s true that demographic is rapidly becoming the majority of the workforce, but if you’re putting all your focus on Millennial workers, you could be shortchanging your business: A new survey reports that Generation X workers are actually the most committed and engaged at work.

Why Gen X Employees are So Valuable

Members of Generation X are in the prime of their work lives, so perhaps it’s no wonder that they are highly invested in their jobs. More than half (52 percent) of executives in the survey by Korn Ferry’s Futurestep division believe Gen X workers are the most engaged generation, compared to 23 percent who believe Baby Boomers and Millennials are the most engaged workers.

Unlike Baby Boomers, who are approaching retirement age, or Millennials, who are just getting their footing in the workforce and more likely to change jobs, Gen X employees combine the best of both worlds: the benefit of experience and know-how, with many productive years in the workforce still ahead. It’s easy to see why they’re highly desirable as employees.



What Motivates Gen X Employees

Above all else, Generation X employees want to feel like their work matters. When asked what is most important to them at work, 39 percent cite “the ability to make a difference in the organization.” In contrast, job stability (16 percent) and income (8 are far less important. In fact, recognition for their work (15 percent), development opportunities (15 percent) and promotion opportunities (7 percent) are way down the scale, too. For Gen X, it’s all about what they can do for your business.

Well, maybe not all. Nearly half (48 percent) of survey respondents say pay/bonuses are the benefit that matters most to Gen X, followed by paid time off (25 percent) and retirement plans (19 percent). In addition, about one-fourth (24 percent) say the desire for financial stability motivates Gen X to stay in a job.

However, overall, what matters most to this generation isn’t financial. Asked what makes Gen X employees choose one company over another, 48 percent say it’s the “ability to make an impact on the business,” and 31 percent cite “belief in the reputation and vision of the [business].” What makes Gen Xers stay in a job? “A sense of pride in their work” topped the list at 41 percent.

How to Retain Gen X Employees

How can you keep your Gen X employees happy and loyal? Here are some takeaways:

  • Provide competitive pay. Although money isn’t the biggest motivator for these workers, it’s definitely a factor, especially considering their stage in life, with responsibilities such as homeownership, parenthood and even children entering college. In addition to wages, bonuses can be a great way to inspire Gen X workers without committing to a permanent salary increase. Tie pay to the results they get for your business, and Gen X will be highly motivated.
  • Be a leader. Your business needs a strong vision and a good reputation to attract Gen X workers and keep them on board. Promote your business’s mission and vision as part of your marketing. Since Gen X workers want to make a difference, a company that makes a difference in its industry, community or the world at large will have an edge in appealing to them.
  • Don’t micromanage. Gen X workers want to make an impact on your business, and they can’t do that if you don’t trust them to take the lead. Continually challenge them with new opportunities. Set goals, but let them decide how exactly to reach those goals. Put them in charge of new projects or training Millennials. Not only will they be more satisfied with their jobs, but you’ll also gain the benefit of new leadership that can help you grow your business.

Gen X Photo via Shutterstock

7 Comments ▼

Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Google+ and visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

7 Reactions

  1. Aira Bongco

    I have a Gen X employee and it seems that they are trying to blend in with millenials and Baby Boomers quite well but they really have different needs. The main need is money along with some security and recognition.

  2. In addition to what this story says, I believe Generation X is the last generation in America that has a conscience. Baby Boomers (our parents) are fine, but Millennials (in general) seem only to care about themselves, they tend to seek violence and intimidation as the first means to solve a dispute, and generally have no mental reservations about stepping on others to achieve their goals.
    But then again, Millennials are our, Gen X’s, children, so perhaps we have failed all generations because we have not taught our children to love and serve others–the way we were taught…

    • I am gen X and we are disgusted by the self centered ‘me me me’ attitude of the millennials [of course not all of them are this way] and they remind us of their parents the boomers in that respect. It was the boomers me me me attitude that changed American society, outsourced jobs, dismantled unions, changed corporate culture, closed down mom and pop stores in favor of large corporate stores because the boomers have always been easy to market to– unlike GenX. Genx were young adults and children when this was going on and we knew it was OUR future that the boomers were selling off to India and China in their greed orgasms in the 80’s. fast forward 30 years and their kids act entitled, don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes, student loan debt or really anything that we are paying and have paid for decades. Why is it they think they should be exempt from these things, and raise OUR taxes so they can get free stuff?? Gen X was out of the house at 18 and supporting themselves in a very bare late 80’s economy with few jobs. We know about recessions, lack of opportunities and what it is like to work in a place that values thrift over employee satisfaction and loyalty.

      • As a millennial, it is disheartening to read constant back lash from Gen X and baby boomers about how my generation seems to be. I wish people that talk bad about our financial situation would realize that we, as millennials are told we must go to college (have you seen the price? Not cheap) and that we should do so and take out as much money we need to in order to graduate. I personally am sick of the older generations being so ready to attack my generation. Not ALL of us are the way you assume. Some of us work 40 hour work weeks in the summer and 20 hour weekend. We take summer classes on top of that and even after all that working we still need financial help. Blame the economy and the cost of school. Not the generation that is stuck in it.

  3. I think it’s an age thing. I’m at the tail end of Gen X (at 37) I don’t like to hire people younger than myself because of their poor work ethic. So the millenials are mostly a bust as employees. They show a complete lack of character – which the lack of character is grilled into them with our public education system. They physically show up – but mentally check out.

    But hasn’t the same been said of just about every generation? I have noticed that as people get older they start to grow up and think about getting older and living a more comfortable life. Its just with our current GenXers and Millenials they have been taught to hold onto their childlike mentalities – and that affects business.

  4. As a hardcore genXer, I have supervised and worked with many millenials and the they are smart, hardworking, and genuinely warm adults.

    My biggest issue has been bridging the gap between baby-boomer expectations and millenial actual deliverables. Boomers seem to want to see the whole thing in one report, while millenials want to just drill down to the specific thing you are looking for and not waste time with a cumbersome report.

    It is clear to me though that genX has a role to play in mentoring millenials as they move into leadership roles.

    Of course, at the current rate of boomer retirement, genX will be retiring at the same time and millineals will rule the world!

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