Understanding Generation X Work Ethics: Learning Lessons From the Baby Boomers

Understanding Generation X Work Ethics: Learning Lessons From the Baby Boomers
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Company Loyalty? Please…

Generation X work ethics are often compared to the Baby Boomers’ work ethics. For Gen X’ers, company loyalty is about as useful as a rusty car with no wheels. They were forced to watch their parents lose their retirement funds after decades of loyalty to their companies and careers. Generation X’ers require independence to do a good job and want to be judged on the quality of the work, not the 9-5 grind.

“It’s OK, I’ll Finish It at Home.”

The dot.com era flipped the business world on its head. Many Baby Boomers were left pulling their hair out when dealing with Gen X’ers, as Baby boomers were employed by Generation X bosses in their 20s.

Gen X’ers are known for valuing free time as a prize above all else. They will complete the task at hand and happily return home to enjoy any extra free time available or to keep working from their home office. This is in direct conflict with the Baby Boomer value of working sixty hours a week to pay his dues and skipping lunch to get ahead, while expecting the same of everyone else as well. Judging the work ethic of an employee is different today than it was twenty years ago. Coming in early and staying late are no longer clear signs of commitment to the company, as a great deal of work can be done from home.

No Need to Make the Same Mistake Twice

There is a strong independence in the mindset of Gen X’ers as pointed out in the Harvard Business Review: “Gen X’ers will want to be free agents – negotiating their own deals, seeking incentives ranging from commissions to options, and switching employers at a moment’s notice.” (1) This ability to switch companies has caused a great deal of anxiety in the corporate world, especially for the Baby Boomer who feels it is of the utmost importance to be loyal and pay dues to a single company.

Gen X’ers had to watch their parents give everything to their jobs, only to be downsized at the end of their careers. They’ve seen corporations steal retirement funds from loyal employees. Gen X’ers are not about to make the same mistake. They take time off, leave early if the job is done, and work to establish strong social connections as a high priority. Generation X work ethics include being more self reliant and willing to jump from company to company due to seeing their parents lose their savings.

Get It Done, Go Home.

Cubicle land

X’ers believe that getting the job done is sufficient. Staying extra hours for no reason or having to be at work when the work can be done from home are difficult concepts for Gen X’ers to wrap their heads around. It makes much more sense for Generation X to simply finish the job and go home.

The work ethic of Gen X’ers can be confusing and irritating for those that want to manage in a traditional style. The 9-5 grind is slowly being replaced by the quality-work, delivered-on-time, with-no-hassles, attitude. It is a big leap to make for the older generation and the obvious choice for the younger generation. Collaborating can be challenging.

All Things Considered

Generation X work ethics include taking responsibility for themselves and a complete lack of desire to waste their lives for a company that will turn its back on them late in life. They need the independence to work remotely when possible and to be understood when they leave to finish work at home. They want to be judged on the quality of work, not the quantity of time spent in an office.


(1) Sharp, kelly. Baby Boomers & Gen X, at https://employee-management-relations.suite101.com/article.cfm/baby_boomers_gen_x_the_work_ethic_debate.

Also: Employee Selection and Development, Inc., at https://www.employeeselect.com/pr16.htm.


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Wikimedia Commons - Cubicle Land by Yonidebest.