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These Kids Today Commitment Just Aint What It Used to Be -- with Good Reason

It may seem like Xers don’t want to pay their dues, but this is what makes Xers so amenable to the kind of day-to-day value-adding relationship most employers want from their employees.

November 1, 1998
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Many managers say Generation Xers (the post-baby boomer generation born between 1965 and 1977, comprising 52 million Americans), and Generation Y (those who come after Xers -- born between 1978 and 2003) aren’t committed to their companies, and that the younger kids are only in it for themselves. But it depends on how you look at it. According to the “1997 Workforce Commitment Index” study by Chicago-based Aon Consulting Worldwide Inc., Gen Xers do show high levels of commitment to their companies.

“It may seem like Xers don’t want to pay their dues, but this is what makes Xers so amenable to the kind of day-to-day value-adding relationship most employers want from their employees,” says Bruce Tulgan, author of several books focusing on Generation X, and the founder of Rainmaker Thinking, Inc., a New Haven, Connecticut-based research, training and consulting firm. “Of course, Xers think, learn and communicate differently from those of other generations, but this is also what makes Xers so comfortable with information and technology.” And that’s a highly needed skill in today’s information society.

“Organizations ought to stop beating their chests about this and ask why new employees don’t have that same loyalty and commitment older workers had and what their companies ought to do about it,” says Eve Luppert, author of Rules for the Road: Surviving Your First Job Out of School (Perigee Books, 1998). Luppert, now based in Seattle, logged 15 years in senior level HR for such firms as Chiat/Day Inc. and ConnexT Inc. before becoming a writer and consultant. Luppert says there are several reasons why younger employees aren’t committed to their companies. “This is truly a television generation, and not since Lou Grant was Mary’s boss have we seen a reasonable, compassionate manager on prime time,” Luppert says. She points out that new workers were growing up with parents who often lost their jobs to downsizing and cutbacks. Their parents’ worlds were tempered with fear and the loss of the family’s livelihood. “Young workers don’t believe their companies when they claim to be a family. These kids know better. Younger workers understand management’s loyalty lasts only as long as financial statements make it possible,” she states. “The new workers have quite rightly placed their first loyalty to themselves and their own careers.”

Luppert asserts that if companies are honest with themselves, they know a promise of security and a gold watch is a relic of the past. Commitment is always “purchased” by mutuality; if you commit to me, I’ll commit to you. “Now that security is no longer the wage for commitment, organizations need to offer something else,” she adds.

She suggests that in the Information Age, the new worker is looking for:

  • information and continuous learning opportunities
  • companies that devote time and money to socially responsible causes
  • merit awards (of money, time or training) for good service.

“I’ve got a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, and they see the world very differently from me, a baby-boomer,” says Jim Krefft, senior vice president of Six Sigma Qualtec, a consulting firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They’re just not going to work in a place that they don’t believe in. My son has already announced, ‘I’m never going to be in a deadhead job.’” Krefft says these young people are looking for organizational cultures that are amenable to a broad degree of what he calls “vibrant diversity” -- a higher level of inclusion than we’re experiencing now in the workplace. It’s an out-of-the-box orientation that transcends even the most inclusive of today’s business cultures -- and these younger workers will thrive on it.

Workforce, November 1998, Vol. 77, No. 11, p.36.

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