Generation X Will Work

May 03, 1999

Just got back from the Spring Meeting of ASFE: Professional Firms Practicing in the Geosciences (Silver Spring, MD) in Atlanta. I think the management and volunteers do a wonderful job. They had about 140 top leaders from the best firms in the business and put together a very interesting program devoted largely to marketing. That’s smart because even though this is a great time for the industry, many firms will suffer with the next downturn if they don’t start a real marketing program now! Anyway, after my kick-off presentation on process marketing an attendee publicly charged me with inconsistency in what we’ve written in The Zweig Letter and what I said in my talk. He said that I’ve written that the salaried people have to work 50 hours a week in this business if you are going to make a profit (true). But then he went on to say that Generation X workers won’t do that. I don’t know what the inconsistency was supposed to be other than I commented early in my talk that us old-timers are widely bashing the work ethic of Generation X. I want to clear up any confusion on where I stand on this issue. Yes, your salaried people do have to work 48-50 hours a week fairly consistently if you are going to be profitable. Forty hours a week is insufficient to spread the overhead. But even though there’s a lot of bashing of the Generation X work ethic, these workers will do that or more, if (and here is the key) the company provides them with an environment they want to work in. And I’ll tell you right now that I think 95% of A/E/P and environmental consulting firms do a poor job providing that type of environment. Here’s what I mean: Salary reviews. Why do most firms give one review a year? According to our 1998 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey of A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms, 52% of the firms in this business have once-a-year reviews! This should be done at least twice and ideally four times a year to keep younger workers motivated. They need more frequent raises! They don’t care whether it creates more work for you; they are impatient to get ahead and have lots of choices of places to work. Don’t forget it! Dress. A lot of firms still allow casual dress only on Fridays. Young workers don’t like that. They feel it’s oppressive to mandate what they have to wear. I don’t disagree today, although I would have 10 years ago. I say let ‘em dress how they want unless there’s a reason to dress up. (But do wear decent casual clothes!) According to our survey, 32% of firms in this business have a formal dress code! Policies. Why can’t someone who doesn’t have to be there at 8 a.m. come in at 9 a.m. if this person works until 9 p.m. every night? If you have rigid start and stop times, you will turn off a number of Generation X workers. And the fact is 29% of firms in this business do not have flex time policies, according to our survey. Office space. Generation X workers like to have fun. The office needs to be a retail environment, one that sells new and existing employees from the moment they see the front door. Again, too many firms look at their office as little more than a warehouse for bodies. The space is boring, poorly lit, has dated décor, no props or fun things laying about, and too many doors that cut off communication. Benefits. Most Generation X workers want good health insurance that doesn’t cost them anything and other goodies like free food. That gets them there early and keeps them late! Ownership. Most firms in this business don’t allow people to become shareholders until they are in their 30s, 40s, or even 50s in some cases. Why is that? Generation X wants an opportunity, just like many of us had. We all didn’t have to wait that long—why should they? I think there is good reason to consider allowing your best 25-year-olds to invest $10,000 or $15,000 in your company. It ties them down and gives them a shot at really having a significant asset as they age. You may not like what I have to say, but I didn’t create the situation. I am simply trying to help you deal with it effectively! If you have high turnover and poor work ethic in your Generation X employees, look in the mirror. It’s your policies, your culture, and your way of doing things that is resulting in this situation. Originally published 5/03/1999

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.