DANA POINT, CA — “Kids today have no respect.” That is one way that previous generations have always seemed to label younger generations. This is especially so with the generation born between 1965 and 1985, best known as Generation X.

What are some other ways to describe this misunderstood generation? How about they have no loyalty, they’re impatient, and they feel like they are entitled to something. These are only a few of the thoughts contractors had on Generation X at the recent MSCA Educational Conference. With technicians becoming harder to retain and to recruit, a little bit of frustration with younger people is understandable.

“Working With Generation X” was the title of a presentation for contractors at the conference by Russell Clough, a professor in Stanford University’s construction management program. The seminar aimed to explain why this generation is the way it is and how older contractors can relate to younger technicians. But Clough also presented the similarities that make Gen Xers just like people from any other generation.

Changing Times, Changing People

In order to understand Gen-eration X and what shaped it, Clough took participants through a brief history of previous generations. Every period in time has had events and moments that shaped it and made it what it is, he said.

For instance, the people born between 1875 and 1900 experienced one of the greatest periods of change. The beginning of this period had no electricity or other modern conveniences. This generation experienced the birth of radio, TV, and many other inventions. It was a time, according to Clough, of family, work, and making the world a better place.

Those born between 1900 through 1925 have come to be called the “Greatest Generation.” This is the generation that lived through the Great Depression, fought in a world war, and raised children. Clough says this generation was primarily concerned about country, family, and job.

Then Clough says a transition came about between 1925 and 1945. The generation born during this period was raised to follow the example of its parents. Military service was required, and an idealistic outlook was more prevalent. Clough says this generation was about making your parents proud of your career.

Then we come to 1945 to 1965, the birth of the generation known as the “Baby Boomers.” Vietnam is a reality, TV is a constant factor, and more women begin to work outside the home. The generation started a revolution in what people could do and be. Clough explains that the motto of the Baby Boomers is that you can be anything you want to be.

These changes bring us to Generation X, the product of the Baby Boomers.

Clough gives several examples of great change over the years between 1950 and 2000. During this time, divorce rates skyrocket, mothers leave the home and begin to work, and theft rates spike. Clough says the increase in theft over this 50-year span shows the declining amount of respect people have for each other. Clough says that from 1965 through 1985, the economy shifted, causing rising prices and an unsteady workforce.

How Does This Influence Generation X?

According to Clough, these environmental influences have shaped the perceptions of Gen Xers. He says this generation’s motto is: “You have to take care of yourself, no one else will.”

Clough explains why most of Generation X feels this way by pointing out that they have grown up in an environment of uncertainty. Almost half of those in this generation come from divorced families, and many have also seen a parent go through economic hardship and layoffs. Because of this economic shift, many mothers had to get jobs, leaving children to take care of themselves —the so-called “latchkey kids.” These factors, according to Clough, have created a generation that is very independent and at the same time somewhat distrustful of the workforce — and sometimes of other people.

At the same time, these factors have also created a generation that values family and free time.

“They feel that since they were latchkey kids, their parents didn’t have time for them,” Clough said. He explains that those in Generation X do not want their careers to define their lives, and they do not want their work to come between them and spending time with family.

Clough also says that a surprising number of those in Generation X are poor. This has to do with the number of individuals who are in debt, mainly due to college loans. The cost of going to college has gone up dramatically, and young people cannot afford to pay for college on their own. In turn, this has been a hurdle that has kept Generation X from getting ahead.

“This is the first generation to not be told they would be better off than their parents,” said Clough.

The examples depicted by Clough are generalizations — not just for Generation X, but also for all the previous generations. It is possible to employ a Gen Xer with work ethic and loyalty. That is why Clough says to judge people on an individual basis.

Employing Generation X

Clough also says that by remembering these generation traits, it can help you to better work with the people you employ because you can understand the environment that has produced them.

Clough also suggests ways you can deal with generation gaps in your business. The main way of doing it, he says, is through communication.

First, when hiring, be clear and precise. Tell your younger employees exactly what is expected of them on the job. Clough even suggests having several people interview younger individuals, including an employee with the company who is closer in age to the individual.

Besides communicating what is expected of them, Clough says contractors should just talk to their younger employees in general. “You have to spend a lot of time talking to your younger employees,” he says. “It’s time consuming, but it’s well worth it.”

The time is worth it because according to Clough, this communication strengthens trust and job security.

Also along with communication, contractors need to give feedback to younger employees. They need to know if they are doing something right. And, if they are, they should be rewarded in some way. Clough also says that when you do speak with them, allow them to share their thoughts and any information they have. This leads to empowerment. An empowered employee can become a more responsible employee.

And finally, be reasonable. Clough says not to be a “my way or the highway” employer. He says that younger employees may find a different way of going about a job, but it should be OK as long as the job gets done.

Publication date: 10/29/2001