Generation X - a nightmare to some, a
Godsend to others. This group, loosely defined, is between the ages of
21 and 34 and represents about 34 million
people. As the Matures enter retirement and the Baby Boomers
prepare for it, the next generation of employees, employers,
CEOs, police chiefs, congressmen, and US
Presidents are getting ready to take the reins.
Many employers can't come to terms with this new generation of
employee who currently represents 33% of the
workforce. Employers say these employees have no loyalty to the job, no
loyalty to their career, are brash,
disrespectful, and constantly on the move. Employers complain of giving
expensive job training and as soon as the "Xer" is profitable to
the company, they quit. The reason: they're
"unfulfilled." "That's inexcusable!" the
employer cries. Is it really? Well, have a look at the
other side of the coin.
I am a Generation Xer. I'm twenty-nine. When I first
heard the descriptions of Generation X I
"Not me," I said. "I don't belong here."
But I do belong. After doing a little research I realize I
epitomize what this group is all about. And my generation has a
lot to offer the workplace. Ultimately, we
will change it. In the meantime, though, there
will need to be some compromise from both sides.
Generation X was molded by the environment in which we grew up; an
environment, consequently, that the Baby Boomers and Matures created. It
was an environment that encouraged loyalty to the job versus attention
to the family. It equated time spent at the
desk as hard work. It rewarded twenty-five
years of job performance with a gold watch. Promotions and
raises were largely based on tenure. This was the work ethic my
parents and my grandparents grew up in and it
served them well.
Then the corporate layoffs began. I saw my friend's parents, who
proudly spoke their employers name like it was a status symbol,
shell-shocked when they were told they no
longer had a job. They were dumbfounded and
terrified now that they no longer had employment that would "take them
home" to retirement. "What's going to happen?
My job is all I know," they said. They were
Generation X is all about not letting that happen to us. We don't
want quarterly stock earnings determining our employment. We won't be
sold on the myth that success and loyalty to
the company are integrally related.
The key for a Generation X employee is this: For a Generation Xer, a
desirable workplace is determined by the skills that will be developed
while working there. If, for whatever reason,
we stop working at one company we want skill
sets that will make us immediately employable elsewhere; we build
equity in our knowledge and capabilities.
What does this mean? It means that Generation X employees want to be
constantly learning. It means that Generation X employees want
challenges, opportunities, interesting tasks,
decision making capabilities, and to be kept
"in the loop" on why and how company decisions are made. To train an Xer
and then give them an uneventful and repetitive McJob is going to give
you, the employer, high job turnover. I heard of a Kinko's
employee in a different city who, during a
conversation with a customer, said "If I'm not
challenged; if I'm not learning, I'm outta here." That is the case.
There are scores of examples to prove it.
Does this mean that the employer must change the entire workplace for
this one segment of employee? Certainly not. Keep in mind that the
employers (managers, supervisors, business
owners, etc.) have the keys to our future. They still grant the
promotions, award the bonuses, sell us the business,
and generally, have a large influence on our success. They are
the ones we must work through to get where we
want to go. Generation X is very ambitious. We
were weaned on a level of success that many of our
grandparents never knew. We got familiar with having lots of
presents under the Christmas tree due to the
affluence of our parents. We were brought up
liking toys and having lots of them compared to our parents and our
grandparents. It's now what we expect. But toys (once Lego's, now cell
phones, cars, homes, etc.) take money, money comes with success, and
much of the time our success is determined by
our superiors. So compromise is necessary for
both parties to succeed.
Xers are not demons; we don't go to work every day just to make our
employer's job hard. We entered the workforce to succeed but our
definition of success is dramatically
different from those that manage us. Our success
is a measurement of overall job capability and versatility, not
time on the job. Our success is measured in
independence and self-reliance, not parasitic
dependence. Our success is about getting to where we want to go
the way we want to do it, not following a mandated definition of
success and then being incentivized to "stay
The companies that have identified the unique skills the Generation X
workforce possesses do everything they can to keep them. Their energy
level, desire to learn, technology skills, and enthusiasm have
transformed the workplace into something
powerful it never has been before. These
companies are quickly moving forward. The employers that are complaining
are still trying to do things the old way, the way they were
taught, and they are going to have a difficult
time staffing their business.