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How In Step Are You With Generation X?

(For individual use only, not to be reproduced or used in any way without permission)

Are you tired of reading about the unfortunate, misunderstood Generation X? Are you tired of catering to these folks, only to have them leave your organization? You may have no choice in the matter. A March 16, 1998, article in Fortune magazine states "... with the U.S. unemployment rate at 4.7%, about the lowest it has been in a quarter of a century, companies are no longer in the driver's seat." Your choice is to continue to be at war and try to mold them into a clone of yourself, or, you can consider how you might set aside your motives, values, and goals - accept them as they are and help them be the individual contributors to your organization that they want to be.

There are about as many definitions of who comprises Generation X as there are authors. So, we have taken an average set of ages. This quiz is for leaders who are over age 35 (in 1998) with direct reports aged 20-34. This quiz asks you ten questions about how you communicate with and lead Xers. The goal is not to "pass" this quiz, but to start an honest self-evaluation process that will help you create win-win relationships. (See related article in this web site on Coaching Generation X for the drivers of this group's behaviors.)

  1. You are advertising for a positions in your department. In the advertisement, do you:
    1. Describe the 100-year history of your stable, well-established company?
    2. Discuss the opportunities for learning new skills and working in a challenging, results-driven organization?
    3. Emphasize the benefit plan, stressing your excellent retirement/401-K program?
    4. Use quotes/testimonials from your senior employees that describe how much they like working at your company?
    5. Explain that you are looking for self-starting, motivated people that can make a difference?
  2. During an interview with job applicants, what do you emphasize the most?
    1. The work-out room and outside picnic tables.
    2. Your flexible work schedules and job-sharing program.
    3. The benefits new employees get after working for one year.
    4. The company's desire for every person to learn as much as they want and be successful no matter how long they are with the company.
    5. The casual atmosphere and your policy on what type of clothing is "business casual."
  3. As a leader, what do you think are the most important behaviors you can exhibit?
    1. Your interest in people's personal lives.
    2. Your mentoring skills.
    3. Your hands-off style.
    4. Your ability to relate to this generation.
    5. Your belief in their ability to take on varied tasks.
  4. You are working on next year's training for your department. What does this look like?
    1. You have a lot of training scheduled for the first six months of employment.
    2. A majority of your courses can be done individually in a self-paced format.
    3. A catalog lists the courses and times available, stating that anyone can take one course each quarter if they can document a job-related need.
    4. Your courses are available on-line.
    5. Employees are encouraged to look elsewhere if you don't offer the training they need.
  5. How do you delegate work/make assignments?
    1. Assign a lot of work so people don't get bored. Make these assignments based on what they have done well in the past.
    2. Discuss the task and help them divide the work into manageable pieces.
    3. Clearly define the task and associated deadlines.
    4. Tell them they should come to you first with any questions or when they need help.
    5. Parcel out pieces of a task so they are not overwhelmed.
  6. As people set out to accomplish a task, do you:
    1. Encourage them to be creative and innovative in how they accomplish a task and ask questions as needed.
    2. Give them detailed instructions and procedures for how the job has been done successfully in the past.
    3. Let them know who can be of assistance within your department and throughout the company.
    4. Discuss why the task needs to be done and help them see their value-added contribution.
    5. Require daily approvals of the work accomplished.
  7. How do you go about giving feedback and performance evaluation?
    1. Let the person review the performance appraisal form so they can be prepared for their quarterly review.
    2. Plan some time every day to talk to the person about how their job is going and see if they have any concerns or questions.
    3. Provide quick, specific, accurate reflections of their performance.
    4. Give feedback when it is requested.
    5. Review their work several times each day.
  8. When people participate on your project team, what are the characteristics of the team?
    1. The team is comprised of representatives from every department/area so everyone knows what is going on.
    2. You are the leader throughout the scope of the project.
    3. The team is empowered to make decisions and implement solutions.
    4. Your project teams generally take 6-12 months to resolve their issue.
    5. Members of the team are selected based on the skill or knowledge they can bring to the project.
  9. How do you provide recognition?
    1. Bring in donuts for the coffee room.
    2. Have an Employee of the Quarter award.
    3. Pass out T-shirts when your department achieves its goals.
    4. Frequent, immediate "pats on the back" to individuals when they do something well.
    5. Schedule department lunches to honor specific individuals each week.
  10. When you try to have some fun at work, you:
    1. Post cartoons on a bulletin board.
    2. Have a "costume" day.
    3. Celebrate every person's birthday.
    4. Schedule fun events after work or on weekends.
    5. Pass out mugs with the company logo.


  1. A=2, B=10, C=6, D=4, E=8. Twenty-something’s will be most interested in a job that is challenging and rewarding - they want to add value. They are not interested in the company's history or the accolades of 20 year veteran employees since they have no trust in companies. They believe in themselves and are not looking for a long term career with one company.
  2. A=4, B=8, C=2, D=10, E=6. Xers are looking for the WIIFM to work at a company, as well as a chance to contribute. Stress the WIIFM and you'll get the contribution. Give them flexible work hours and they will be more productive. Work-out rooms and picnic tables are a token start. But, what does the rest of the office look like. Is it parceled out in cubicles and offices (for managers, of course), with policies on who gets how much space and what type of furniture? Is the work-out room only available during lunch or before/after work - how about any time of the day? Can you loosen up on the dress code? Can they get benefits now.... one year is too long to wait (they may not be with you then).
  3. A=6,B=10,C=4,D=2,E=9. The best way to lead this group is to be a mentor so they can learn and grow. They will probably come to look upon you as a surrogate "work parent." Take an interest in their "causes" (this group has a high rate of volunteerism). The minute you say "that's not in your job description," you will lose these folks. Likewise, the minute you say "I remember when I was your age .... " they will be turned off. Their life is totally different than yours was.
  4. A=4, B= 10, C=2, D=9, E=6. This generation is self-motivated and wants to learn at their own pace. Training is the number one motivator with Xers because it increases their portfolio of marketable skills. So you train them and they leave? When you satisfy their thirst for knowledge, then you will reap the rewards if you let them apply their new skills on the job.
  5. A=2, B=10, C=8, D=6, E=4. Due to a shorter attention span, these people can get lost in a large project. So, help them set daily goals and tell them exactly what is expected and when it is required. Let them know "what is on the test." Then, let them manage their own time. However, don't treat them as babies who can't handle the whole task or make the mistake of assuming they need a lot of (busy) work to be challenged.
  6. A=9, B=2, C=8, D=10, E=4. Don't micro-manage these folks and stifle their creativity with "the way we've always done it." Be patient with their questions about "why" they are doing something. They are not questioning you, but just want to understand the big picture and their part in it. Don't be the only person they can come to for help. Offer them a variety of people from whom they can learn.
  7. A=2, B=10, C=9, D=6, E=4. While Generation X does not want over-your-shoulder managers, they do want constant feedback. Does once a day sound like too much? It doesn't have to be a sit-down thirty minute discussion. Surely you can find a few minutes each day to talk to your people and see how they are doing.
  8. A=6, B=4, C=8, D=2, E=10. Xers have a low tolerance for meetings when nothing gets accomplished and ever-ending bureaucracy rules. While they are independent workers, they crave the relationships that teams provide. But, they want to contribute something to the team based on their expertise and expect the other team members to be selected based on their skills, not the prevailing political wind or because "every department must be represented." If you're not serious about empowering teams, they'll see right through you.
  9. A=6, B=2, C=4, D=10, E=8. As with feedback, twenty-something’s need recognition as proof of their ability to add value and produce results. Don't base all recognition on team or department successes - recognize the individual within the team. When recognition is for the entire department, make it a social event (i.e. lunch)-7 donuts left in the coffee room is cold and reminds them of the breakfast they ate alone while their parents were getting ready to go to work. Employee of the Quarter? Three months is a long time.
  10. A=4, B=10, C=8, D=6, E=2. Companies have to loosen up when they think about having fun. Ask people what would be fun for them. It probably won't be what you think is fun. Be careful, don't ask for input and not be ready to implement it. This one area might be the greatest test of your flexibility and paradigms.


  • 80 - 100 points: You are well on your way to understanding and supporting the needs of this generation. Hand them the remote control and put them in charge of their work life. Allow them to have ownership of their work by creating "businesses within your business" and pay their dues based on performance, not seniority. How about letting them wear shorts and wander through the halls barefoot or bring their pets to work? Yes, this is happening now!
  • 60 - 79 points: You've started to accommodate this diverse group of people. But, you may need to examine your paradigms even further. You may be talking the talk, but you're not walking the talk. This generation can see through "phoniness" quicker than any other. If you don't make drastic changes now, they won't stay around to see if you do in the next year.
  • Below 60 points: You are in denial that change needs to occur. Xers don't come to you with that built-in trust and respect of organizations and your authority. You earn this because of who you are and what you do. Again, quoting the March Fortune magazine article, "The stereotype is that Generation X thinks it's entitled. But the people who sound like they have entitlement mentality are companies: They think they're entitled to have a work force that works like their parents did. But, it was big companies that in the late 1980's and early 1990's ended the traditional employment contract."

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