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Generations Divided: Making the Differences Between Gen-X and the Millennials Work for Your Business

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo

Understanding the differences between Gen-X and Millennials will help you hire better.

The Millennials reached a milestone last year.

A Pew Research Study indicated that they surpassed Gen-X and became the largest share of the American workforce’ at 53.5 million strong.

The two generations together now make up most of the workforce, but despite being back-to-back generations, they are separated by some key differences. 

The Society for Human Resource Management recommends having a firm understanding of what is important and valued by each of these generations in the recruitment process. Doing so could be invaluable in determining which candidates would reject or accept positions.

Beyond the hiring process, understanding the key differences between each generation offers better insight into how each respective employee thrives. How a new hire fits into your team can and will change the climate, for good or bad. Cater accordingly.

Related Article: Management for All Ages: How to Better Lead Your Multigenerational Team

The strengths and weaknesses between Gen-X and the Millennials

Both Millennials and Gen-X employees have distinct strengths, and likewise, weaknesses, making them better able to tackle some responsibilities but less effective in other respects.

Let's break them down into a list of desirable traits.

Work Ethic

As noted in the Entrepreneur article, What to Expect from Gen-X and Millennial Employees, Millennials tends to be more self-managing and values balance.

The same article went on to discuss how Millennials are "adaptable and flexible and able to deal with an ever-increasing rate of change." They are handworkers when they feel fulfilled by their work. 

Cost Efficiency

58 percent of respondents in a study by Ernst and Young agreed that Gen-Xers are revenue generators, but as far as cost efficiency goes, Millennials exceed Gen-X.

According to Pro Opinion’s article, Millennials are far more concerned about finances in general and are better at saving their own money and yours. 


Gen-X is currently seen as the best choice for management. They bridge the gap between the older and younger generations, can delegate workflow to both their elders and juniors without raising ire, and don’t need much supervision.

On the other hand, Millennials are currently having some difficulty in management roles, which may in part be due to their age or social skills that are noticeably different than their older counterparts.

Tech Savvy Proficiency

Both generations are tech savvy but the difference is that the Millennials take technology proficiency up a notch. It's no secret that Millennials currently corner the market in tech prowess.

Millennials view technology as an extension of themselves. More than a hobby, technology is a lifestyle for them and they are native tech users.


Gen-X holds sway on adaptability. They are not native tech users, though many born late in the generation have been using technology for a majority of their life and have been part of the entire evolution of Internet marketing, research and usage.

Millennials are also adaptable, but they are less likely to be team players. Millennials respond to mentors who can help them grow, but not necessarily team building environments.

Ability to Generate Revenue

Where Millennials are excellent at saving you money, Gen-X are far superior at helping you grow your revenue. When determining who to hire for a set position, you should consider not only what skills they'll bring to fill the set position, but how they will enhance the overall team you currently have.

Action steps

You have a new position to fill and seeing that Gen-X and the Millennials have taken over the workforce, it’s likely you’re going to encounter many of them in your search.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a perfect candidate for every job and vise versa? Gen-X Gene might poses most of the skills you’re looking for but then comes Millennial Michelle and she’s pretty awesome too.

You wish you could just combine them together and hire that one person.

What do you do?

Related Article: Reaching Millennial Women: The Continued Rise of Visual Social Platforms

After narrowing down the best candidate, you want he or she to accept your offer and upon acceptance (assuming they exceed the high hopes you have for them), you want to retain them. Here are a few ways to help keep both generations, and your bottom line, happy.

Both generations combined

  • Be flexible in scheduling. Whenever possible, allow employees to make their own hours and offer flexible working environments, such as work from home Fridays.

Gen-X specific

  • Since this generation strives on getting ahead in their career, put them (even your Gen-X managers) on a career development plan and keep the lines of communication open.

Millennials Quote Forbes Karl Moore Sienna Zampino

  • Trust (unless proven otherwise) these employees to work independently. Micromanagement won’t go over well with them. More than 50 percent of Gen-Xers grew up in a single parent home, spending the majority of their time alone, as noted by Reliable Planet. They are independent and often quite resilient.

Millennial specific

  • The Pro Opinion article mentioned earlier suggested:  “Strive to harness the knowledge and creativity your Millennial employees posses simply from having been born into this digital generation… technology occupies a central space in their lives and is always in the forefront of their thought processes.” While both generations are tech savvy, the Millennials look for the ‘latest and greatest’ in technology. Budget permitting, let your employees capitalize on the tools they need to feed their technology appetite, which in turn, can benefit your company. Something like the Quartet Kapture, for example, could in fact make employees more productive.

  • While making money is important to Millennials, it’s not all that matters. Give them a purpose.

Mandy Smith CU Insight: Quote on Retaining Gen-X

  • If you’re putting a Millennial in a management position, offer adequate training such as webinars and seminars to strengthen their skills and keep them focused.

Related Article: 5 Innovative Ways to Improve Employee Engagement for Millennials

Each generation offers its own strengths. When structured properly, using all of the benefits in the most productive way can make multi-generational staff exceptionally successful for an extended duration.

At the end of the day, playing to the strengths of each generation helps build an environment of cohesive teamwork.

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo,
business.com Writer
See Marisa Sanfilippo's Profile
Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.