Managing Our Future: The Generation X Factor

By O'Bannon, Gary | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Managing Our Future: The Generation X Factor


O'Bannon, Gary, Public Personnel Management


The potential impact of the backgrounds of Generation Xers and BabyBoomers was reviewed to determine whether key factors and defining moments in their histories may explain the communication disconnect in our nation's workplace. Of special concern, the review sought to analyze the backgrounds of Generation Xers and BabyBoomers to find out how these perspectives influence workplace attitudes and perceptions. It is contemplated that, if these issues can be discussed openly, a more positive work relationship can be cultivated. Additionally, the techniques that could be used by Boomer supervisors to communicate effectively with Xers were reviewed. The results show that, despite a lot of name-calling and blaming, the American workforce and ethic remain strong, and Xers are, slowly but surely, altering the work environment in a manner that may ultimately benefit the family unit and reaffirm America's strong individualistic spirit. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the unique backgrounds of Xers and Boomers and develop a methodology for resolving workplace conflicts between the two generations.

As each new generation enters the workforce, conflicts are assumed, as each generation sets its tone and establishes boundaries, ground rules, and expectations. Perhaps no generation has entered the workforce with as much skepticism and diminished expectations regarding work-life as the generation referred to as "X." Prophetically, there have been substantive misunderstandings between BabyBoomers [Hereinafter "Boomers"], who were born roughly between the years 1946-1964, and Generation Xers [Hereinafter "Xers"], who were born roughly between 1961-1981. However, in order to remain productive, the great majority of Boomers who supervise the nation's 13th generation must understand the unique circumstances that have governed the upbringing of Xers and be willing to compromise their expectations regarding this generation's work ethic and their way of balancing issues affecting work and life. Conversely, while there is precious little data on the unique workplace relationship where Xers supervise Boomers, it is just as crucial to explore the history of Boomers to understand their perceptions, disappointments, and cynicism -- and acknowledge how that may influence their relationship with Xers.

To begin, a review of Xers finds their top work complaints include (a) management that ignores ideas from employees, (b) lack of consistent feedback or recognition when it's due, and (c) "do-it because I said so" management.[1]

In today's tight job market, these issues are worth acknowledging. A recent year-long study by one consultant group concluded that companies will find themselves in a constant battle to entice the best-qualified workers to join their ranks. The battle will be costly, and even if successful, companies will also have to work harder to keep their best people.[2]

The failure to recognize and acknowledge the differences between Boomers and Xers will result in miscommunication, misunderstandings and harsh feelings, creating dysfunctional supervisor-employee relationships.

Research Questions

In order to develop options for resolving the problems previously stated, the following questions will be investigated: (a) What histories do Xers and Boomers bring to the workplace that, if acknowledged, may help to facilitate a positive work relationship? (b) What factors may have contributed to ineffective communication between boomers and Xers, and where did these factors originate and why? (c) What positive aspects and trends do generation Xers bring to the workplace? (d) What techniques can be utilized by Boomer supervisors to communicate effectively with Xers?

Relationship to Human Resource Management

The link to human resource management arises from numerous human resource principles and theories. For example, in organizational behavior, we learned about the foundations of individual behavior. …

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