If you watch Nick at Nite you might remember the beginning of the Superman TV show? It’s bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman.
In the 50’s, we looked in the sky and tried to identify the caped man.
In 2005, we look in the workplace and try to identify co-workers.
Are they a baby boomer, a mature, a Gen X’er?
What is Gen-X?
Statistically, you work with one,
you market to one, or you are one.
As a consultant, I work with many executives in different size
companies. A common theme has evolved:
what about Generation X? We look at them and say,
they don’t have our work ethic, and they don’t have our dedication.
Let’s first look at who they are, before we look at how they fit in our
workplace. Is it our workplace? When will it become their workplace?
Generation X is loosely defined as those between the ages of 22-44.
Gen-X is as much a mindset as it is a chronological age.
You can be older than 44, and possess the mindset of a Gen-X’er.
You may chronologically fall in the age guidelines,
but mentally you may not be a card carrying member. The more
research I conducted, the more I realized that I am NOT genetically
programmed to be a Gen-X’er, regardless of my age. What about you?
Wherever I went, executives mouthed the same challenges.
They couldn’t recognize that it was a pattern because they thought their
challenge was an isolated case: the wanderlust of their associate attorney,
the work ethic of their vice-president, the lack of commitment of the new salesperson.
The pattern wove in and out of every industry: the affect of Gen X in the
So I sat down with a Gen-X’er over lunch. And then another lunch and another.
I started out wanting to get an understanding of the Gen-X mindset. What I
found was that we needed to get an understanding of each other. With a twenty year difference between us, we realized that we both misunderstood the other generation and the affects of each mindset in the workplace.
Listen in on a conversation with Gen-x’er Eustacia Netzel,
recent MBA graduate and Assistant Vice President
and Community Bank Manager, FirstMerit Bank.
Q. What is Gen-x looking for in the workplace?
A. Challenge, rewards, security.
Q. Security, no you’re not! How can you say you’re looking for security when statistically you move jobs every 2 years?
A. Security to me means to be marketable. We’re looking for security,
we don’t want to be 50 and downsized.
Q. Eustacia, can you expand on how moving jobs frequently, gives you security?
A. It’s a misconception that Gen-X’ers don’t want security. We see security
differently. More varied job experience equals more security.
The more marketable we are, the more secure we feel.
Q. It is said that statistically, Gen-X’ers move every 2 years. From your experience, is that true?
A. From my personal experience, it is true. I hadn’t found the right fit before
my current employment. While I’m in my twenties, without a family and a
house, it seemed the right time to move around, to see if I could get my career path figured out.
Q. We worried about finding another job. You don’t think like that?
A. NO! There are so many jobs out there. My thought was that there must
be something better! I don’t want one job forever. Keep in mind that you
can have several jobs at the same company. I want challenges, change, the
opportunity to do different things, to learn, get it right, and then
go on . . . what’s next?
Q. So what do you think about people that stay in the same job for their whole career?
A. If that is what works for them, then that’s great. It isn’t something that
works for me. New challenges of new jobs excite me. It makes me feel more
valuable. I like the variety of knowledge and experience.
Q. Now that’s a twist, you’re saying that value isn’t defined in the years
at one company?
A. As a Gen-X’er, I see value to a company as a wide breadth of
experience. This can be attained by a variety of jobs either within one
company or several companies.
Q. Even if the company shows they are committed, can a Gen-X’er be loyal?
A. We can be loyal to a company, but we need to see the company committed
to us first.
Q. Isn’t that backwards; don’t you have to be loyal first?
A. Why? What did that get you? Downsized. There have been a lot of us
who have seen our parents and co-workers give so much to a company and
have been downsized in a blink of an eye. It really surprises me that companies haven’t thought about the ramifications of their actions.
Q. On a scale of 1-10, how important is being challenged at work?
A. An 8 or 9.
Q. Is anything more important than the challenge?
A. Maybe. The challenges won’t be worth the effort if you aren’t being compensated.
Q. Let’s look at work ethic. We define working hard as working long hours.
You don’t. Are you all slackers?
A. We define working hard as working when you’re at work.
What is a good work ethic? If my boss sat next to me all day, she would
not observe unproductive time. Do I have a bad work ethic? No. We have
a different work ethic. I truly believe in working smarter not harder.
Why should I be labeled a slacker if I can get a job done in 40 hours and
it takes someone else 50 hours to do the same job?
Q. OK, so you’ve convinced me, you don’t work less hard, you work smarter.
But if you got that project done in half the time, what did you do then?
Another project or is it time to rollerblade?
A. I wouldn’t cut out of work early if that were what you’re asking. I don’t have
the desire to work late every night of the week no matter what.
Q. So you defined working hard as working hard when you’re at work. That
implies that you’re not working at home. The workplace is run by people who
grew up taking work home. What are you doing, if you’re not working at home?
A. Let’s look at this logically. After a 9 hour work day and 8 hours sleep,
I am left with 6 hours. Deduct one hour for dinner and one half hour for
lunch. Now we have four and a half. I am more productive when I work out
one hour day. Now we are down to 3½ hours for Grocery shopping, seeing
friends, working on a master’s degree, being active in the community, laundry,
and I don’t even have a family yet! Where I am to fit in working at home?
Q. You talk about the company being committed,
how committed are you to success?
A. I am very committed. I have pursued a graduate degree. I have joined
two young professional groups. I continue to be involved in volunteer activities
as well as joining a community board. I also have a couple of mentors who I
meet with on a regular basis to make sure I am on the right track. Who doesn’t
want to be successful? I would just like to be successful at everything… life and
work. Not just work.
Q. Let’s look at where we are in the global economy.
Where do you think we are?
A. Look at Europe or Australia. They are working so they can live,
not living so they can work.
Q. Would you say Europe or Australia is exactly on the cutting edge of
world commerce? Look at the Asian countries, they are not exactly worried
about life balance and they are nipping at the world’s heels, aren’t they?
A. We always have to look for ways to be better and quicker. It’s what
we accomplish not the hours worked. If we fail to focus on life it affects our
work. If we focus on work when we are at work, makes a difference in the
quality of work.
Q. Does this thinking seem different to you than the thinking of other’s in the
A. I thought everyone thought like us. I didn’t realize that it was really different.
Q. Can you redefine the workplace?
I can re-define it for myself.
Q. Presently, you have two mindsets. The work ‘till your drop, or drop out
ethic, and the 8 hours is enough ethic. Who will bend?
A. I don’t know, but the company I work for will.
They are here. If they are not in your workplace, they are coming. In some ways,
they could not be more different if they were the masked crusader himself!
We defined value largely in terms of length of time—worked in a day and in a
lifetime. Gen-X’ers tend to define value as getting results, regardless of the hours.
As an individual workplace, and as a workforce, how will we define
Gen-x’ers look for a company to show them loyalty before they show the company loyalty. They look for challenge, and define security differently. Varied experience
gives them security, whereas tenure gave our generation security.
In the 50’s, we looked in the sky and tried to identify the caped man.
In 2005, we look at members of our teams, and attempt to identify their mindset
Will the workplace bend to Gen X or will Gen X bend to the workplace?
Before we can answer that question, we need to understand them.