Working with Gen X: How Other Generations Can Adapt

Generation X is sandwiched between the two largest generations alive today: Baby Boomers and Generation Y/Millennials. This means that Generation X will never be the largest generation at the workplace, but even so, their impact is significant. Gen Xers are in a unique position as they started their careers relatively recently and can understand the challenges Millennials face, while also starting to enter leadership positions and can therefore relate to Baby Boomers.

One of the things that make Generation X stand out from other generations is that many of them have young children and aging parents. This means that having a work-life balance is important to them as they often have responsibilities to take care of their family members. They typically also prefer a divide between their personal and work lives. This is not to say that they do not make friends at work or not hang out with colleagues after work, but they tend to have a “business first” approach to their work relations.

When working with Generation X, note that they appreciate it if you use their time efficiently. When presenting an idea of have a meeting with them, make it as productive as possible and focus on what is in it for them. Gen Xers value brevity, fast turnarounds, and efficiency. This is a stark contrast with Baby Boomers, who focus on interpersonal relationships before getting a task done. Making your communication, whether it is in-person, over the phone, or via Gen X’s preferred mode of communication (email), as concise and to the point as possible will increase your effective collaboration with this generation.

As leaders, Gen Xers dislike micromanagement, both as a leader and as a follower. Their leadership style revolves around trusting others to get the job done and they expect the same courtesy in return. They value people doing what they say they are going to do, so do not promise Gen Xers that you will do something if you know you cannot. Their leadership style is therefore quite informal as they expect people to follow deadlines and get the job done, while giving their workers a high degree of freedom.

Generation X is an efficient generation who hate wasting time with empty words, promises, and incompetence. They appreciate immediate actions, a focus and straightforward approach to work without long social interactions. They respect child-friendly environments, such as being able to have a flexible schedule that allows them to accomplish their professional tasks while also taking care of their family members. They can brief and blunt, but they have an authentic and results-orientated approach to work. If you work with a Gen Xers, give them freedom to do their work and explore and only make promises you can keep. Keep your emails and interactions to the point and follow up quickly after a meeting. Having an efficient but friendly approach will take you far with this generation.

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.


So what does working with a Gen Xer really mean? Does it only apply to the laboratory, or do we work with people outside of the laboratory? Hmmm. How about our family, friends, social and community relationships? That said, I took this question to the streets as well as the laboratory and asked these questions.

Boomers, what’s it like working with a Gen Xer?

Gen Xers have a good work ethic; however, their family often ranks higher than their job. Boomers pride themselves in their work ethic. The Gen Xers are still so busy taking care of their aging parents, as well as, their kids, even when they’re off at college. They are the “Sandwich Generation.”

Millennials, what’s it like working with a Gen Xer?

I took this question to the classroom where I teach. My students are all working on their Masters Degree, and by the way, I have three Gen Z students in my class. Both the Millennials and Gen Z students found that the communication with a Gen Xer is different. The stated that the Gen Xers use email, messaging and Slack. As a Boomer, I didn’t know what Slack was! The Generation Y and Z students felt that the Gen Xers were resistant to change and to some technology.

One Millennial by the name of Erika shared that she found Gen Xers relatable and at ease. I found her most profound statement to be that she said the Gen Xers seemed like they were in-between and strike a balance between the Boomers and the Millennials. Hmmm…. They are known as the “Sandwich Generation” because they are often taking care of their parents and their children, but it’s interesting Erika saw them “sandwiched” in a different way.

Time to hear from our Gen Xers and how they feel about working with the Boomers and Millennials.

Gen Xers, what’s it like working with the Boomers and Millennials?

My first Gen X interview came from a regional director of a Beverage Company. As a Gen Xer, he felt that he was more effective working with the Boomers when the communication was face to face, or on the telephone. Emails worked, but he definitely noticed the Boomer preference. On the other side of the coin, this Gen Xer found that the Millennials who worked for him or with him preferred the technology communication.

The Gen X laboratory professional I interviewed found the Boomers resistant to change. This was interesting because this is how the Millennials felt about the Gen Xers! Again, is this the “Sandwich Effect!” Overall, this Gen Xer appreciated the depth and vast knowledge of the Boomer and how they wore that hard work as a badge of pride.

Lastly, on a high note, the Gen X laboratory professional really appreciated the Millennial’s enthusiasm. The grass doesn’t grow under their feet in the work place. If they perceive there’s no place to climb the ladder, they’re off and running. The Gen Xers let go of the “Boomer Job Loyalty Program,” however, they are more stable than the Millennials in the work place.  Again, they possess the gifts from the Boomers and Millennials. They are “The In-betweeners!”

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-Catherine Stakenas, MA, is the Senior Director of Organizational Leadership and Development and Performance Management at ASCP. She is certified in the use and interpretation of 28 self-assessment instruments and has designed and taught masters and doctoral level students.  

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