RALL: Making the Most of Your Gen X Workers

If you're like most Baby Boomers, you gave up idealism and rock 'n' roll for middle management and a split-level in a gated community. The trouble is, those damn acid flashbacks keep turning your assistant vice president into a five-foot-tall spitting toad during strategy meetings. Well, that's part of the problem. The rest of your problem is those inscrutable "Generation X" administrative assistants who do all your real work for Honduran garment worker wages. They know they're underpaid and overworked, yet they show up every morning nonetheless. Who knows why? It's enough to make anyone nervous as hell.Without these sullen Nez Perce types to make the computer print out those cool window-spreadsheet-whatevers you need to create your reports, your tenuous stewardship over the fiefdom of the Domestic Operations Department will crash to a deafening halt, sending you off to mingle with the unwashed in what's left of the county welfare office, your spouse to the nearest divorce lawyer and your well-fed kids to one of those icky public schools. You know it, and what's much, much worse -- they know it.But having them in your office tweaks your shadow of a conscience. And their fashion sense is driving you nuts-haven't these people ever heard of chinos?The first key to understanding your twentysomething employees, many of whom are 35 years old, is to accept that they hate you. Oh, sure, they smile blankly at you, ask about your kids' college prospects and compliment you on your new Jeep Cherokee. That's when you're looking.The second you're out during lunch scavenging the mall for the new double-CD by Earth, Wind & Fire, your 26-year-old intern with the clunky black shoes and the 24-year-old clerk with that thing in her left eyelid and the 33-year-old junior assistant associate with the thin tie from the '50s meet at the local Starbucks to plot your demise.Sharie Hanes (not her real name), a 29-year-old junior assistant at a New Haven insurance company, admits to offing her first Boomer boss about one year ago. "My manager was this gross ex-hippie," Hanes said. "Larry was always talking about socially-responsible business -- you know, 'doing well by doing good,' and all that crap. Meanwhile he was paying me twelve bucks an hour, without overtime. So one day I loosened the front wheel nuts on his four-by-four. He hit a bridge abutment doing 60," Hanes recalls, smiling thinly.Rather than promote a Gen Xer to fill the now-defunct Larry's position Hanes' employer chose to hire another Boomer from outside the company. "Of course, she's no different than Larry. She spews that 'team player' rhetoric all the time, but then she signs her name to my work. I've been dropping tiny balls of mercury into her coffee ever since she denied my extra week of unpaid vacation."Hanes' gericide is not unusual. According to the Denver-based consulting firm Effective Exploitation, Gen Xers will murder more than 30,000 Boomer bosses this year. With so many managers paying for their hiring decisions with a permanent vacation, shouldn't you learn to do without twentysomething employees?Of course not. Gen Xers are a vital source of high-quality labor at bargain-basement prices. These ex-latchkey kids are self-loathing, highly-leveraged with student loans, and have low expectations. Having entered the job market after you Boomers had taken all the good jobs, even Harvard grads consider themselves fortunate to perform 80 hours a week of soul-crushing data entry at $18,000 a year, all so you can afford to give your daughter a brand-new Miata for her Sweet 16. They understand how to put your company on that World Wide Super Information Highway Internet thing, how to produce desktop-publishing stuff and how to get the jammed paper out of section 5 of the xerox machine. They've learned not to expect job security, a pension plan or decent medical benefits. They're too alienated to unionize. So, why go all the way to Nanjing when you can hire slave labor right here in America? If you dazzle these image sluts with vacuous charm, they'll forget all about hacking you to pieces. Xers are surly, but they're a CEO's wettest dream: An overeducated underclass!Here's how to keep your Xer drones in check:* Style Over Substance. These people grew up on trash television culture. For them, image is everything. Let them wear their weird tattoos and pierced-navel-exposing shirts, and they'll never pester you for a raise!* Invite Them to Meetings. Nothing angers an Xer more than feeling left out of the loop. Ask their opinions. Obviously you'll make the real decisions with your fellow Boomers once the young'uns are out of the room, but it never hurts to make them feel important.* Provide Training. Xers know they'll be the first to go the next time the shareholders squawk, so they're always looking for new skills to take with them. Ask them to train each other -- this costs no money, takes no effort and doesn't give your competitors an edge when they hire them.* Positive Reinforcement. Let your staffers know when they've done a good job. Used "Employee of the month" plaques only cost a buck each. Up-front displays of your appreciation for work that's getting you big bucks are free, and nothing is stopping you from filling up their personnel files with slanderous memos for good measure.* Know the Lingo. An occasional savvy reference to popular culture may not make you one of "them" -- but hey, who'd want to sleep on a futon on the floor with bars on the windows? -- but it will make you understood. Examples: "Global positioning is like Courtney Love!" "Tech support is the Feeling Minnesota of this RFP." "What would Marsha Brady do about the audit?"In this profit-sensitive economy, you just can't afford not to make the most of your Gen X employees. Train this army of wage slaves well and remember, the "X" stands for "Exploitation"!

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