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Mediating between busters and boomers

There's nothing wrong with Generation X workers that an interpreter can't cure.

Marilyn Moats Kennedy, a demographer who operates CareerStrategies, a business in Wilmette, Ill., said that while the attitudes of the "busters" _ her term for those born between 1965 and 1975 _ are different from the older baby boomer generation, one of the main workplace problems is communications.

"Interpreters are at a premium because so much misunderstanding clouds the communication process," she said. Addressing a Workplace of the Future conference sponsored by the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce and other groups, she said, "When a boomer says to a boomer, "This needs to be done,' both understand that's an order, but nicely put. However, when a boomer says to a buster, "This needs to be done,' the buster hears an observation, not an order."

Kennedy said that when diversity in the workplace is mentioned, people think of race and sex. "You don't think of age groups."

Attitudes of busters, the group that commands attention because of the labor shortage, were shaped by several events in their formative years. Between 1985 and 1990 two of five workers experienced layoffs, she said. Again, between 1990 and 1995 two of five workers experienced layoffs.

"Because they saw dad's pain of being laid off they made a decision never to make an emotional commitment to a company," Kennedy said. She cited Xerox reporting record profits in 1992 and then laying off 20,000 workers as an example of the shaping of that attitude. Kennedy said that to today's worker, big is not better. Different is better. "They (busters) want portable skills, they want the latest technological stuff. Work is not the centerpiece of life. Time is the new money."

She said that contrary to baby boomers, who believe they must be doing something to feel worthwhile, busters feel "the ultimate luxury is to do nothing at all."

The "team" approach to workplace projects "is out the window" when it comes to busters. They prefer to work alone, she said.

This, she said, stems from the world in which they were growing up in. "They belong to a much smaller generation (than the boomers). For many, computers were more absorbing than playmates."

In terms of personal values, she said the busters are closer to their grandparents than they are to the baby boomers.