Manager of a Generation: Millennials vs. Gen X

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Manager of a Generation: Millennials vs. Gen X 

Modern managers have their work cut out for them: Millennials make up more than one-third of the workforce, making them the largest percentage of American workers at 53.5 million. It’s easy for managers to get caught up in developing new strategies for how to manage this growing group of young professionals, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is another key presence in the labor force: As of 2015, there were 52.7 million Generation X workers. So how can managers balance supervising these two worker populations? First, it’s helpful to understand just what makes them tick.

The upbringing and struggles of both generations help to define their work ethic, job performance, and career goals. Because millennials and Gen Xers came of age in very different cultures, they have unique expectations and preferences when it comes to their working life.

What’s in a Name? Defining the Generations

Gen Xers were born between 1961 and 1980. Often referred to as “America’s neglected middle child,” they fall between the two largest populations, baby boomers and millennials. Politically, they’re moderate. Personally, they’re independent. This comes through in their taste in music. Popular Gen X hits include:

  • “Like a Prayer” by Madonna (1989)
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)
  • “Loser” by Beck (1994)
  • “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys (1994)

The millennial generation arrived on the scene between 1981 and 2000. They are the most educated of recent generations, but they don’t earn as much as their predecessors. Millennials trend toward the left politically and are extremely savvy when it comes to technology. They favor hits such as:

  • “Hey Ya” by Outkast (2003)
  • “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce (2003)
  • “Best of You” by Foo Fighters (2005)
  • “SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake (2006)

Generations in the Workplace

Gen Xers and millennials take different approaches to their professional life as well. Their workplace characteristics include:

Gen X

  • Value work-life balance
  • Need independence
  • Prefer task-based work
  • View promotions as earned rewards
  • See technology as a learned skill


  • Believe in civic duty
  • Thrive in a team setting
  • Need regular feedback
  • See managers as equals
  • View technology as integral

Generations by the Numbers

Here are some more key differences between Gen Xers and millennials:

  • Population: There are 31 million more millennials than Gen Xers in the U.S. population. That’s more than the entire population of Australia.
    • Gen X makes up 16 percent of the population.
    • Millennials make up around a quarter of the population.
  • Beliefs: 31 percent of Gen Xers believe most people are trustworthy, while only 19 percent of millennials feel the same.
  • Outlook: 44 percent of Gen Xers feel pessimistic about retirement, but only 35 percent of millennials feel pessimistic about retirement.
  • Income: The average income for Gen Xers is $50,400. Millennials earn an average of $34,430. That’s a difference of around $16,000 — about the cost of a 2016 Honda Fit.

Management Best Practices

It is important for managers to consider individual workers’ needs as well when developing a leadership style. Here are some of the ways to manage Gen Xers and millennials effectively.

For Generation X:

  • Let them focus on task-based projects.
  • Allow them to have a life outside of work.
  • Give them new technology.
  • Enable them to work independently.
  • Speak to them directly and give them purpose.
  • Encourage them to engage their entrepreneurial spirit.

For millennials:

  • Let them make a difference in the world.
  • Put them in a team setting.
  • Listen to their ideas and utilize them.
  • Allow them to work hard, but leave on time.
  • Give them regular feedback.
  • Encourage their creative solutions.

If managers can apply strategies like these, they’ll motivate their employees and create effective professional relationships. This results in a stronger, more cohesive team with leadership that works. Learn more about how King University’s specialized online MBA program helps you develop the skills you need for management success.