We’ve had a silent generation, a sandwich generation, a lost generation—and now—an overlooked generation. Between the wave of retiring Baby Boomers and tsunami of entering Millennials, Gen X is forgiven for feeling neglected. Yet the group now aged 38 to 53 accounts for a third of the U.S. workforce, or 53 million people. And according to MetLife’s 17th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS), the impacts of this neglect are real.
Gen X employees not only feel significantly underappreciated at work and engage at lower rates than millennials, they also lag both Boomers and Millennials in key financial security indicators. Across all demographics, the study found employees name personal finances as their number one source of stress, however, just 59% of Gen X workers are confident in their finances, compared to two-thirds of millennials and 65% of boomers.
Gen X workers are also the least likely to have a savings cushion of three months of salary—just over half have enough savings, compared to 58% of millennials and 60% of boomers. This, combined with the fact that nearly half of Gen X employees report living paycheck to paycheck, puts this generation in the danger zone when it comes to preparing for the unexpected and planning for the future.
Unhappy at work, and lacking financial fundamentals
Given their financial pressures, it’s not a surprise the study revealed Gen X as the least happy generation of employees at work—just 68% of Gen X workers report being happy at work, compared with 75% of millennials and 74% of boomers. Contributing to Gen X unhappiness is that only 54% of Gen X workers feel empowered at work and 62% feel respected in the workplace. “The combination of Gen X’s financial stress with low engagement and the perceived lack of appreciation can have significant negative repercussions across the workplace, and employers need to take this seriously,” Todd Katz, executive vice president, Group Benefits at MetLife, said in a statement. “With record low unemployment and employers competing in a war for talent, those who can understand their workforce’s pain points will be best positioned to both attract and retain experienced, highly skilled workers.”
The importance of employee happiness should not be overlooked by employers—90% of happy employees say they are loyal to their employer. Although employers attempt to show employees appreciation through many channels, Gen X workers are not feeling the impact. Relative to their millennial colleagues, Gen X workers believe employers are not providing them with timely promotions, exposure to senior leadership, and meaningful work projects.
Employers, though, don’t see this as a problem—only 18% of employers believe a top challenge they face is creating an inclusive environment for all generations.
This issue has reached its tipping point—employers can no longer overlook Gen X, especially since they are the most likely generation to say they will never retire and may remain in the workforce for the next 30 or more years. Nearly one in five Gen X employees do not plan to ever retire, compared to 14% of millennials and 12% of boomers. One reason could be that more Gen X workers are behind on their retirement savings than millennials. While employers have focused on providing resources to millennials and boomers, the employees likely to work longest are Gen X—and employers need to understand how to keep this group engaged, happy and productive.
Steps employers can take to right the course
Employers should start by looking at their benefits offerings. When asked to decide between better benefits or more flexibility, 57% of Gen X workers chose better benefits, compared to 48% of millennials. Benefits such as paid leave, financial wellness programs, legal plans, supplementary health and disability insurance provide resources as well as the necessary financial security to prevent long-term hardships. Offering financial wellness tools can help all employees, not just Gen X.