How to deal with Generation X
One hears a lot of talk these days about Generation X. Curious, this observer conducted an Internet search of Generation X websites. Here is how the Generation Xers define themselves. These are their words, not mine:
Resentful, negative, selfish, find no joy in working either for themselves or others, tend to remain at home and live off their parents while full of rage that they might have to support their parents some day either directly or indirectly through Social Security and Medicare taxes. Also, by their own definition, Generation Xers are currently between ages 19 and 39.
What makes all this relevant is that the Generation Xers are now in the work force in large numbers. So, like it or not, those in leadership and management positions must deal with this phenomenon. Indeed, the Xers pose one of the biggest challenges the world of work has yet to face.
Fortunately, not everyone currently between the ages of 19 and 39 is a card-carrying member of Generation X and does not manifest their characteristic behaviors. But the actual Xers are fairly easy to spot in the work place.
Instead of staying busy with their assigned duties, they use their computers to play Solitaire or they spend long periods on the company phones talking with other Xers tending to their social affairs or using the Internet to exchange emails with fellow Xers.
Just by coming to work, they feel they are doing the company a big favor. Work assignments are met with resentment, and often, sabotage. Xers know one way to avoid future work assignments is to either fail to carry out the assignment or, if carried out, to do it so badly that it is never assigned again.
The response of management should be a pink slip and bad references. But, due to the current economy and a severe shortage of labor, either skilled or unskilled, the Xers think they are virtually immune from being canned.
Those who do want to avoid being fired sometimes adopt behaviors aimed at job security while, at the same time, not having to do any real work. A favorite ploy is to identify the person with the firing authority and make sure that person thinks they are doing a good job. This can require actual performance. But if the big boss is, as is too often the case, an absentee boss, then the work only has to be done on those rare occasions when the boss is around.
A corollary to pleasing the big boss is to make sure the big boss only hears bad things about co-workers. In other words, the work environment becomes a zero-sum game where the Xers denigrate others in order to make themselves look good and others look bad.
There is, of course, a management fix to all this; however, it requires that management understand the nature of the Xers and then take strong measures to turn their pitiful lives around or send them to the unemployment office.
Step one is to understand that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is inoperative when it comes to Generation Xers. At the top of Maslow’s famous pyramid, is “self-actualization.” The Army used to have a recruiting slogan that defined “self-actualization.” The Army urged recruits to “Be all you can be!”
But Generation Xers don’t want to be all they can be because they really don’t like who they are to begin with and they know that being the best they can be won’t (to paraphrase former U.S. Vice President, John Nance Garner) amount to a bucket of warm spit.
Army and Marine Corps First Sergeants and Drill Sergeants are eternal optimists. Inside almost every Beetle Bailey, they see a Sergeant York or a John Wayne. Their methods are tough. But it’s really “tough love” and it often works. Maybe, that’s the answer. Bring back the draft and send the Generation Xers to boot camp.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.