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GENerating Xcellence in the Workplace
by Darin Green

After Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X appeared in 1990, he became the unofficial and reluctant spokesman for an entire group of men and women. Ever since, the media has been trying to pigeonhole Generation X. As a result, the X - the missing qualifier that would normally establish a definitive identity - has brought about uncertainty, if not fear, for this dynamic group of young adults. Who are they? What do they want? How can corporations utilize the vibrant qualities they possess?

For the most part, the men and women of Generation X, also known as Xers, have not embraced the sociological moniker that has been forced upon them. This is typical of their open-mindedness and stringent dislike for labels of any kind. Since they were raised in a supercharged atmosphere of change, they are necessarily accustomed to transition. But who are they? Typically speaking, an Xer was born between 1965 and 1978. They were raised in the midst of Vietnam. They are the first generation in the history of civilization to gaze at the moon and understand that it has been conquered. They came of age during Reagonomics, Glasnot and the termination of the Berlin Wall. They grew up with PCs, MTV, CNN, HIV and CDs. It is little wonder that in such an abbreviated and accelerated society that they should live for the moment while remaining simultaneously anxious about the future. They, like any social grouping, are merely a product of their environment, and they crave new experiences, be that through travel or intellectual growth. Most crucially, Xers define themselves by what they have done, and not by what they are currently doing.

These considerations are salient for major corporations if they intend to keep Xers on the payroll. High salaries and generous benefits will not keep these men and women at a company if the job itself does not provide experiential stimulus. Xers are driven and determined, eager to prove themselves and willing to work very hard, but at the same time they also crave challenges that bring rewarding change. In fact, "change" is the unspoken credo of this generation. They embrace the unorthodox and new, thus making "diversity in all its forms" cultural, political, sexual, racial, social - a hallmark of this generation, a diversity, accessible to everyone, that transcends even national borders - 1. For Xers, the truth is not absolute, rather, it is consensual and wholly malleable. Hence, they remain extraordinarily flexible and are often bubbling with innovative and radical ideas that remain largely untapped in today's workforce. If given the space to experiment, Xers can produce ingenious solutions based upon their understanding of a diverse and fluctuating world. For example, since Xers value flexibility, one benefit surrounding this generation is their ability to work in changing environments, often being more productive if given the chance to work at home. Another benefit encompassing Generation X is their keen ability to work outside the boundaries of micro-management; since they value feedback on their personal performance, coaching or mentoring this generation produces impressive results. Perhaps the greatest attribute of Generation X is their desire to work independently while at the same time being mindful of the corporate team.

Combining their formidable curiosity for new experiences alongside their appreciation for the diverse, they are also a generation that possesses great savoir-faire in regards to technology. Many Xers knew how to use a PC before they knew how to drive a car. For them, a computer is no more a savior than a villain; it is merely a tool that they have learned to wield with startlingly agility. More than any other generation, Xers fully understand that today's information is tomorrow's history; they strive to remain ahead of the game, often learning new information on their own time not only satisfies their need for new experiences, but also assuages an indeterminate future. For them, technology and the world operate at the same speed. Hence, education remains continuous and this, arguably, explains why they are the most erudite generation in American history. Is it any wonder that Douglas Coupland described his generation as they very embodiment of - individualism adapting itself to a changing world.- 2 Xers have been unfairly represented in the media as a pack of slackers, but the complete opposite is closer to the mark. Some of the benefits in hiring Xers include:
  1. Their ability to work hard.
  2. An appreciation for diverse challenges.
  3. How they view technology as merely a part of their daily lives.
Lastly, perhaps the greatest benefit Xers can add to the office is a desire to have fun. Since they believe that stress does not breed success, work and play are often synonymous, which means that anxiety is reduced while concurrently increasing productivity. To the uninitiated, this may appear as moments of sloth, but it is merely how they handle stress in order to keep their energy levels high. In order to GENerate Xcellence in the workplace, corporations must first undermine the pernicious stereotypes that surround this misunderstood generation; after this has been accomplished, great things can be expected of Xers, so long as their attributes are understood and utilized.

  1. Smith, J Walker and Ann Clurman. Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing. (New York: Harper Business, 1998), p 89.
  2. Coupland, Douglas. "Generation Xd." ( Details, June 1995), p 72.
All contents of this article, unless otherwise noted, are 20032004 Darin Green Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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