Producer question: What motivates some of my new, young employees?

Tyler's response: Whatever generation we are, we see those older than us as too rooted in the past and unwilling to change. We often view those younger than us as irresponsible, disrespectful and wanting to change things too fast. How many times have you heard or said that these young people "don't want to work hard," or they "have no understanding of what it is to be responsible."

In the last two years I have met several successful pork producers and other business people that don't make those kinds of statements about their young employees. They chose to understand them instead of stereotype them. They realize these young workers can help them accomplish their goals. These employers determine what the new generation of the workforce is really looking for, then they find a way to provide it in the workplace.

When you try to understand what went right (or wrong) with a particular group of hogs, a key area to investigate is the environment during their development. What was the weather like? Was there a health problem in the herd at that time? Did they receive a quality diet?

The same analysis applies when trying to understand a different generation. The challenge is to understand the developmental influences during a particular period and recognize how that affected the people growing up then. Businesses that have successfully created a workplace where their staff can maximize their potential have chosen to understand those influencers. They make minor workplace adjustments that bring out their employees' potential.

Most pork production employees that you're hiring today probably fit into "Generation X" – the generation just after the "Baby Boomers." Gen-Xers, as they are called, were born roughly between 1965 and 1985. Be careful not to categorize any group too vehemently. There are many differences within individuals, but as we look at people with common experiences, developmental influencers and environments, patterns emerge that shed light on that group's tendencies. It's like animal breeds. Even though animals are of same breed, there's still significant variation within the breed.

So, let's look at the societal environment that influenced the Gen-Xers.

Gen-Xers got that name because as they were growing up, no one really knew what they were going to be like, and it seemed that they really didn't know what they would want. They were a great "unknown", therefore the title "X." The society they grew up in was very different than that of their Baby Boomer parents.

The 1970's and 1980's had the lowest percentage (15 percent) of self-employed people in the United States. So as the Gen-Xers grew up, their parents talked about the workplace from an employee's perspective rather than an employer. They rarely heard about the challenges of owning a business, managing employees, cash flows, overhead and so forth.

They have not had to deal with high inflation like that of the 1970's and 1980's, a family member being drafted off to war or occasional energy shortages such as gas and electricity.

Most Gen-Xers don't know life without VCRs, color TV, computers and computer games, bar-code scanners, shopping malls, new movies coming out weekly or space travel.

Family life was very different than their predecessor's. Half of these people either came from a divorced home or their best friend did. They got as much education from Big Bird as they did from mom and dad. Their parents and their friends' parents moved often, so few developed friendships that lasted from kindergarten to graduation.

The effect of all this is that they are cautious about relationships. And their trust is hard to earn. Interestingly, 46 percent of 20-somethings still live with their Mom and/or Dad.

Much of their skepticism comes from the media that has influenced them. Gen-Xers use TV as a window, not a mirror. It is their access to values and interests different from their own. Most of their perceptions about romance, violence, music, art, money, cars, lifestyles came from TV. They see little difference between news and entertainment. Advertising claims of "biggest, brightest, fastest" are all terms they have heard too often.

Their feelings about money and finances differ as well. Gen-Xers feel the previous generation was materialistic and didn't spend enough family time.

They see money as a way to buy security. They tend to be less interested in accumulating run-of-the-mill stuff and more interested in homes, quality cars, travel, and being socially conscious. Status is less about money and more about computing capacity and modem speed.

When it comes to relationships, the people in their lives are more important than their position at work. In the workplace they will want to socialize more. They need an interactive environment where they have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people. They want to work as a team and to establish the rules as a team vs. having management dictate.

Their preferred work environment is one where they are given specific goals, the tools needed to achieve those goals, clear expectations and deadlines. Then they prefer to decide as a team how to accomplish the task and who will perform each role. They want you to provide answers to questions and any additional information concisely and quickly.

They say that they will raise their own kids. Many don't have children yet, so we don't know how this will unfold. This particular preference is one reason why they want a work environment with flexible schedules, and one that puts a high priority on family needs. They prefer a work environment that has specific, predictable time off. Total required working hours is less important than knowing for certain that they will be able to leave when they are scheduled to be off.

Their preferred workplace also puts a high value on critical thinking and will provide opportunities to learn through a variety of media (audio, video, written and interactive). Since relationships are critical, they will tend to avoid positions or circumstances that are confrontational or require them to evaluate their co-workers. The "rules" at work need to be fair, equitable, non-discriminatory, as well as clearly understood, communicated and written. They tend to take criticism more personally than you may feel they should.

An additional note on their feelings about society and government. Some sociologists feel that the Gen-Xers, more than any generation in recent history, are the most likely to start their own political party.

Don Tyler is president of Profitable Solutions, an employee and business management consulting service, Clarks Hill, Ind.