The Generation X stereotype is that those born between 1966 and 1978 are lazy, anti-authority slackers with an ultrashort attention span and absolutely no loyalty to their employers. Sound harsh? That verdict was loudly echoed in a recent survey of small-business owners. A stunning 65 percent said Gen X's work ethic is worse than that of prior generations, with 49 percent contending Gen X simply isn't willing to work hard, according to Cleveland-based small-business lender Key Corp.
Is this sweeping put-down accurate? Not according to the many management experts who insist Gen X workers are top quality and highly educated (more have attended college than any prior generation). More important, "These are the employees who are coming into the workplace," says Rebecca Haddock, a career counselor at the University of San Diego. Since these are today's--and tomorrow's--workers, you've got to learn how to motivate Gen X for best results.
Small-business owners who have learned how to handle Gen Xers are profiting as a result. "If you allow slackers to work for you, that's what you'll get. But I don't have any slackers on my payroll--my people all work hard," says Denise Pagura, owner of Dublin, Ohio-based Northern Lights Tree Farms, a Christmas tree grower and multistate retail operation that employs some 50 Gen Xers in peak seasons. "Set your standards high enough, and many will rise to meet them."
"They will work very hard and very long hours if you manage them properly," agrees Pamela Hamilton, founder and president of Collaborative Communications Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts, public relations agency. Hamilton says 12 of her 13 employees are Gen Xers, and "it is a challenge to manage them, but if you do, you'll get terrific results."