Monday, May 07, 2001

Boomers and Xers on the job

Author, consultant tells what motivates the generations

        Claire Raines, a national business consultant and author, speaks May 15 at the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's Innovative Conference and Job Fair at Receptions in Erlanger (Call (859) 578-8800 for reservations. Tickets are $100 a person). Author of Generations at Work and co-author of The Xers & The Boomers — From Adversaries to Allies, she has a client roster that includes Microsoft, Toyota, American Express and Sprint. She spoke recently with Enquirer business reporter John Eckberg about workplace generational issues.

        Question: Do generations get along at work?

Answer: Oh, that's sort of like do people get along. Yeah, sometimes, but I think there's an awful lot of judging going on — where people don't agree with other people's work ethic or their approach to work and sometimes don't realize it's generational. Sometimes, I think, there's actually quite a bit of generational conflict.

        Q: Is it an older generation judging the younger generation?

A: Partly. Certainly we've had lots of judgment going on by the baby boomers (Americans born from 1946 to 1964) of the Generation Xers (1965 to 1977) for the last 10 or 12 years. But now that the generation Xers are established in the work force — they're now 40 percent of the work force and the boomers are 45 percent — so they're getting to be almost as big a group, and they are moving into positions of more control and power.

        They are also getting more experience and are beginning to say, just a minute, this isn't fair, and there's all sorts of things about you guys that aren't so wonderful, either. Like Generation Xers would tell you boomers tend to be real political and have learned how to say all the right things: like we really care what employees think, that kind of stuff.

        Q: So boomers have artifice down pat?

        A: Right. They think boomers are artificial and they really think baby boomers have been really indulged, that they've been in the spotlight. A big complaint that GenXers have toward boomers is that they're just driven by work, that they've made it the meaning of life, almost like a religion. They think that's pretty unhealthy.

        Q: What do you base all this on?

A: I've been working with this stuff for 15 years. I've written four books about the generations in the workplace. It's based on focus groups, interviews, surveys and lots of other people's work, too.

        Q: In Northern Kentucky at your address, what do you hope people will take away back to the workplace?

A: I hope that they're realize that growing up in a different era tends to make people see the world differently, and that that's not a bad thing. I would like the listeners to realize that people are not going to grow up and be just like them, that people will get more tolerant of differences and begin to value differences.

        I would hope people will improve their communications and management styles and keep generational differences in mind.

        Q. When it comes to retention, it seems like GenXers are a free-lance generation — 24 months at a place and they're outta here. I couldn't see my late father, for instance, ever dreaming of that kind of occupational mobility.

A. Absolutely. That is a huge generational difference. GenXers were shaped by the 1970s. They saw an oil shortage and Nixon go down in disgrace. They watched their parents get outplaced and laid off. They grew up in a real uncertain economy.

        They tend to think of themselves first — of course there are all sorts of people who don't fit this profile — but one typical characteristic of GenXers is that they think of themselves as free agents. They think of themselves as marketable commodities.

        Meredith Bagby, the CNNfn reporter, sometimes quotes a survey that says there are more GenXers who believe in UFOs than GenXers who believe that Social Security will be there for them. They feel like their only ticket to security is themselves and their resumes.

        Q: So employers, to retain GenXers, is it a simple question of more dollar signs?

A. Dollar signs work for all the generations, really. For GenXers, money is important, but they also say they want to get that resume strong, and not necessarily to take the resume somewhere else, but because they want to be developed.


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