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Employers are quickly waking up to the fact that the work force of tomorrow is today's Generation X.
This realization is accompanied by no small amount of trepidation, because many managerial types are of a generation that just doesn't know what to make of the twentysomethings that comprise this younger generation. In their day, for example, piercing one's nose (eyebrow, tongue, navel, etc.) was something that happened only as a result of industrial accidents.
Many in the older generation no doubt pray it is a phase that will be passed through -- as soon as possible -- or a lifestyle that will eventually fade from view, much like they passed in and out of the beatnik, hippie and preppie movements.
This concern may be because their own children are part of Generation X and they know firsthand how little they care for being part of the status quo. Or, on a more basic level, maybe they just can't imagine their company made up of people like the tattooed, pierced folks who work at the local coffee shop.
It's true many of the things that attracted other generations to the workforce, such as money, security, achievement and status, may not be the goals of Generation X. If there's a common thread to this group, it's that they are independent thinkers who don't hold in high regard the way things have been done to date.
Some in corporate America might wonder why they should even bother reaching out to Generation X. It's simple: The Baby Boomer generation isn't going to be the key market for consumer goods and services forever. Car makers have figured this out, as have Hollywood, cola companies, Apple Computer and The Gap. Can insurers, banks and Brooks Brothers be far behind?
To help older managerial types cope with the reality of Generation X, corporate America frequently turns to consultants.
These firms put on expensive seminars and offer costly advice on a variety of touchy-feely issues. A recent brochure that crossed my desk offered such informative sessions as: Advice from an employer of choice for Generation X (it's a pizza delivery chain, not an insurer); pinpointing cognitive style changes that will enable you to deal with Generation X employees; motivating Generation X; changing your culture to appeal to Generation X; and establishing a dress code that will improve Generation X attitudes and productivity.
One consultant offered this advice to employers seeking to understand Generation X: "When you think about it, not having responsibility and not having anybody expect anything of you is actually a kind of passive-aggressive power play."
I think this means companies are supposed to hire as workers people who exert their "power" by refusing to work or accept responsibility? Huh?
I have a handful of simple suggestions for companies that want to attract Generation Xers. These ideas not only don't require a doctorate in mumbo jumbo but also are free:
* Don't call them Generation X or GenXers. They hate this label. They hate labels, period.
* Make work fun. I know, it's an oxymoron. For example, instead of encouraging employees to play golf, maybe try snowboarding. Maybe hold a Dukes of Hazzard or A-Team rerun festival in the corporate auditorium after hours (Generation X watched a lot of TV growing up and for some reason thinks these shows were cool).
* Respect their sense of social responsibility. OK, I admit I'm still having a hard time throwing my pop cans in the recycling bin, but I've stopped sneering at those who do. Recycling, environmental awareness and political correctness may seem overdone at times, but the intention and result can be good.
* Take advantage of their individuality. Maybe they act and look like no one else in your work force, but diversity never hurts. The creativity they employ in their quest for individuality may be a real asset when it comes to a new way of looking at products and services and finding solutions.
It's worth a try, unless you plan to just pull up stakes and fold the tent in a few years. If you succeed in attracting the hordes of Generation Xers to your company, no doubt you'll have an edge in attracting them to the goods and services you provide.
At least, that's what I think. But what does an old fart Baby Boomer know anyway?
Editor Paul D. Winston and Publisher and Editorial Director Kathryn J. McIntyre publish columns on alternate weeks.