Managing Gen-X

March 20, 2003


By Bob Losyk

It's often said that kids today aren't what they used to be. But is this new generation of workers really so different than previous generations? Some of the factors that influenced Generation X'ers are:
  • They had to fend for themselves as latchkey kids, so they don't buy into being bossed around.

  • They saw company-loyal parents put out of work in downsizings, so they're more interested in their own personal career gains, instead of the employer's.

  • They were raised on TV, MTV, and in a culture of immediacy, so they like entertainment but don't stay in one place too long.

Many of us are left with the impression that X'ers are slackerds, irresponsible and just want to have fun. Out of sheer frustration, some owners and managers try to avoid hiring young workers altogether. But, this only leaves employers in short supply of people to fill entry-level positions. If you hire X'ers and can't handle them because they are different, you've got a problem. Because, this is the next generation of workers, and like it or not, they are here to stay.

Let me debunk the media-generated myths about this generation right now. With the right motivation, this is a generation that is energetic, creative, enthusiastic and ready to contribute. If this were a generation of all slackerds, small businesses, retail outlets, and restaurants would be going out of business in droves. Many managers and owners have been very successful in getting the most from them. I have seen countless success stories. The challenge is that this generation is just different, and we haven't figured out how to manage for those differences.

Every generation is wary of the generation that follows it. There is always fear, apprehension, and misunderstanding. By understanding the next generation we can hire the right employees, and manage them effectively. Get better at hiring them.

If you keep on doing what you've been doing, you will continue to get what you have always got! Read books or attend seminars on recruiting, interviewing and hiring. Anything you do to improve your ability to hire is better than what you are doing now.

The first thing to remember is that this is the next generation. Accept them and learn to work with them rather than fight them. It's a lot easier. Showing that you don't like them only creates conflict and turnover.

Show that you truly care about them as a person. They often didn't get this from their own parents, or came from single parent homes. They need to know that they matter. But, be careful. They hate anything that smacks of phoniness.

Generation X'ers want the care and concern, yet don't want to be babied. They want you to guide them, but also want to be seen as independent and self starters. Don't baby them, but do be a surrogate parent to them.

It's critical to write out the specific standards of behavior, responsibilities and policies you want. Try using written agreements and contracts. This generation is used to doing this with their parents and teachers. Communicate the critical behaviors you want on the job. When you lay out clear expectations and goals, they can't come back and say "it's not my job."

Show your support for their personal situations. This is a difficult time for young people. Many times they don't have anyone that will listen. Be flexible with your scheduling. Many young workers are in school, and need the time to study and graduate. They also need some free time just to have fun.

Learn to make work as fun as possible. Sales contests and games work very well with this group. Have friendly competition between individuals or teams for a predetermined goal.

The last area critical to managing Generation X'ers is to reward and recognize them for exceptional behavior. If people go above and beyond what is required, be sure to recognize it in words or actions, and reward them appropriately. Give them rewards that are meaningful to them.

Being able to change is tough. The employers that make changes in their management style for these young workers will be the ones with less turnover, fewer hiring setbacks and more profits for their business. These changes must be made because this is the workforce of tomorrow.

Bob Losyk, M.Ed., M.B.A., C.S.P., is a certified speaking professional, master trainer, facilitator, author, and president of Innovative Training Solutions, a Ft. Lauderdale, FL consulting firm. For more information on Bob's keynotes, seminars, association board facilitation, panel discussion leadership, and products to help you recruit, hire, and manage your employees, please visit his website at or call 1-800-995-0344.

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