Generation X—the group of Americans born roughly between 1963 and 1981—is more than 40 million strong in today's workforce. Yet many Xers feel misunderstood and mismanaged. Managers report they have trouble understanding Xers—we may seem to them like disloyal cynics with short attention spans. Some say we're arrogant and unwilling to pay our dues. In the hopes of dispelling these myths, let me suggest how to bring out the best in Generation X.
First, Xers aren't disloyal. We're skeptical of institutions and cautious about investing our creative energy without any promised return. Remember, Xers entered the working world in the post-job-security, post-pension-security era. Even so, Xers are capable of a new kind of loyalty that managers may earn by forging a new workplace bargain based on relationships of short-term mutual benefit. Managers should let Xers know they're willing to negotiate this new workplace bargain.
Second, Xers don't have short attention spans. Generation Xers are voracious learners who love to sort through and digest massive quantities of information at a quick pace. Remember, information technology shaped the way Xers think and learn. What may look to managers like a short attention span is, instead, a rapid-fire style of information consumption, which makes Xers uniquely suited to the workplace of the future. Managers should provide Xers with maximum information from as many sources as possible and let them sort it out for themselves.
And third, Xers' determined individualism and entrepreneurial style shouldn't be mistaken for arrogance. Managers should try to remember that Xers were the latch-key kids. We're used to taking care of ourselves and finding original solutions to intractable problems. We have a natural independence and creative prowess—a style self-nurtured in a society that's increasingly chaotic. Managers should give Xers opportunities for 100 percent responsibility for specific goals and greater creative freedom to achieve those goals.
SOURCE: Reprinted from "Answerline" in the December 1995 issue of Personnel Journal.
Personnel Journal, November 1996, Vol. 75, No. 11, p. 88.