May 6, 2005
Excerpts: Getting Them To Give a Damn - Part VI
I first heard my mom use the term workaholic to explain why my dad couldnt come watch my football game. He had a tenth-grade education and was the breadwinner for a family of seven, so he was tirelessly trying to make a buck and get ahead. I never saw him take it easy. My father did not have an off switch. By contrast, I wonder if my 20-year-old son even has an on switch.
While I was taught to work by a dad who made sure Id always pull my weight and learn to survive, I became a dad who wanted his kids to enjoy their childhoods. I took them to places I only dreamed of going when I was a kid and gave them things I wished I had had. Although I never intended to spoil them, they certainly got a lot in exchange for a little.
Not Defined by Work
My hunch (supported by research) tells me that a lot of Baby Boomer/ Generation X parents raised their children like I did. Today, a ton of kidployees like Zac and Whitney (my 19-year-old daughter) can be found in the workplace. They dont despise the notion of work; they just arent as enamored with it as you and I have been taught to be. While we feel a sense of pride after putting in full days work for a full days pay, they simply feel tired.
Unlike you and me, they dont see any correlation between what they do and who they are. They refuse to be defined by their job title or by the quality of their work. To them, work is simply a thing they have to do to get the stuff they want. If they can put in a minimal effort and still get that stuff, then doing more than the minimum is a waste.
I graduated from a suburban, middle-class high school in the 1970s. About half of my closest friends decided not to go on to college but instead jumped right into the workforce and learned a trade. Ill never forget hearing my locker partner describe his plans after graduation. I just want to get on with a good company that has benefits and rise through the ranks, maybe get into management someday, Ronny said. Thirty years later, hes still working with the post office. Another classmate took a job as a driver with Pepsi. Today, hes a route supervisor in the Denver bottling plant of PepsiCo.
Free Agent Mentality
Todays youth have no such illusions. Many of their parents have been outsourced, rightsized, and downsized by companies they spent their lives trying to build. Consequently, theyve been cautioned about falling into the same trap. They dont buy into work here 40 years and retire with a gold watch, so you wont hear many talking about long-term employment. Instead, the free agent mentality is practically encoded in their DNA: they want to get as much as they can in exchange for as little as possible. Well, thats an effective way to come out on topat a garage sale. It certainly doesnt play well on the front lines of your business.
Tap into This Talent
More than anything else, the new work ethic drives managers absolutely bonkers. You think, They dont give a damn! and complain to friends and colleagues about their lack of effort and commitment. You wonder why they arent as motivated or drivenas you were at their age. You see their amazing potential, envy their ability to absorb new information so quickly, and know they have the technosavvy to create awesome resultsbut you might have no idea how to tap into all of this talent. An operations manager for a chain of video stores described it to me this way: Its like driving a Ferrari on the Autobahn and being stuck in first gear.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.