What motivates Generation X at work: New research

What motivates Generation X at work: New research

researched based

Generation X is a demographic cohort that grew up in the 1970s and 80s and in many cases were just graduating from university when the ‘Digital Age’ started to mature. In the 80s and 90s generation X were stereotyped as being disaffected, in a large part because many of their parents both worked and they often had to look after themselves as teenagers.


Coming into middle age, Generation X now forms a large proportion of executive level management, gaining seniority as the Baby Boomers before them now start to retire. Interestingly Gen X are now described as the ‘settled and happy’ generation having taken the early fruits of the boom of the Digital Age.


Generation x are becoming senior managers


So, what motivates Generation Xers at work? Do they expect everything to be fed to them on a silver platter? A paper that looked at 300 men and women from this generation and has come to some interesting conclusions.


Organisational commitment


The paper looked at five aspects of the workplace and assessed what motivates Generation X to remain with an organisation for a long time? Human capital is usually the most important part of any organisation. The researchers found that there are five main areas which denotes motivation for Generation X:


  1. Compensation
  2. Knowledge sharing
  3. Autonomy
  4. Learning
  5. Justice


Gen x people

The 5 main Generation X Motivators


  1. This has the strongest association with organisational commitment among the Generation X staff surveyed. While not everyone loves their job, if it funds a comfortable lifestyle then they will remain. The ideology of the teen Gen X has largely been replaced.


  1. Knowledge sharing. The paper argued that, “organisational competitive and capability depends on the effectiveness of transforming the knowledge of the organisation. People will share their knowledge if they find that the information is beneficial to an organisation.” There is also a social status and power gained from being the one sharing or disseminating the information. It is worth noting the connection here with the rise of sharing knowledge/videos/pictures/news etc. via social media for social affiliation and social power reasons. This has been found to be a particular motivator for this generation.


  1. Task orientation and autonomy. The less supervision and more autonomy someone is given the greater their willingness to do the task. This imbues trust from the organisation to the employee. Task orientation for Gen X is very much tied to autonomy as a motivator.


  1. Development opportunities are another factor that is seen to be important by Generation X. The paper referred to this as viewing training and development as ‘upgrading themselves to encounter the challenges’ they find in the workplace and is a considerable motivator.


  1. Organisational justice is seen as being almost as important a motivator for Gen X as compensation is. Getting their due, being treated fairly and sensing that the organisation treats them fairly is an important motivator. Further it was found that this generation are also motivated to protest or leave if they sense others aren’t being treated fairly.



This study is generally in line with other previous research looking at the maturation of this generation. It is interesting watching the changes in this generation as it ages and develops. It is also important from an organisational point of view to understand the shifting motivations of the generations as they move through the workforce.


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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page