Generation X: Who are they?

As baby boomers age, same-day surgery managers find themselves supervising and trying to motivate a group of people that seem to have completely different approach to life, work, and management.

This group born between 1964 and 1980 were first called "Generation X" in a 1991 novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, by Douglas Coupland. Although Coupland’s book is fiction, the characteristics of the generation he describes are different in many ways from baby boomers, says Jo Manion, MA, RN, CNAA, FAAN, senior consultant at Manion and Associates in Oviedo, FL.

"A big misconception about this age group is that they have it easy because their parents have given them everything," says Manion.

The reality is that 43% of Generation Xers are being paid minimum wage, she says. "Even those who are earning more, such as surgery program nurses, are spending as much as 40% of their income on their mortgages, compared to the 14% of income spent on mortgages by their parents."

The good news for Generation X is that it is easier for them to find jobs. Between 1946 and 1964, birth rates peaked at 25.3 births per 1,000 population, creating the age grouping known as baby boomers. This period was followed by a 16-year period during which the birth rate fell to 14.6 births per 1,000 population, creating a total of 44 million Xers, compared to 77 million boomers. This has created the smallest pool of entry-level workers since the 1930s.1

Because there are more jobs than people, Generation Xers can be choosy about where they work, says Manion. "One of the biggest complaints managers express to me about managing Generation Xers is their lack of loyalty," says Manion.

This lack of loyalty grew out of the Xers seeing members of their parents generation undergo the trauma of downsizing, re-engineering, and company closings, she explains. "An Xer is not going to look at any job as a lifelong commitment because he or she knows that the employer cannot make a long-term commitment to them."

What you can do is offer Xers a work environment that recognizes their technological knowledge, independence, and need for recognition, says Manion. And don’t expect problems, she adds. "Managers must be careful not to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that Generation X staff members will be a problem to manage."

Manion suggests that managers learn as much as they can about this group. She suggests a book: Beyond Generation X: A Practical Guide for Managers by Claire Raines (Crisp Publications, Menlo Park, CA), as a source of information about how Xers think and what they expect from a job and a manager.

"Once a manager understands the generation’s characteristics and why they act the way they do, the manager can create a work environment that is not only positive for Generation Xers, but for baby boomers as well," she says.


1. Loysk B. Generation X: What they think and what they plan to do. The Futurist 1997; 31:39-44.