American popular culture makes a big deal of highlighting the differences between the generations.
But are those differences enough to command the attention of bankers who hire and manage younger people?
Bankers and industry experts express mixed views. Some say Generation Xers - the moniker applied to those born after 1964 - aren't so different from earlier generations. Others believe that while baby boomer executives are likely to be self-directed and independent, Generation X employees prefer more supervision and feedback on their work.
One problem is that stereotypes can clash with reality. There may be twentysomething "slackers" who live at home, don't work, and listen to grunge music. But there are also plenty of 25-year-olds working toward their master's degree in business administration. The sheer number of younger people also makes the issue relevant: By the year 2000, there will be about 100 million people under the age of 35, according to the Dilenschneider Group, an international consulting firm in New York.
"Generation Xers are probably the best-educated group of people entering the work force. But they are the most difficult people to handle in the workplace," said Kim Kindschi, a senior vice president of the Wisconsin Bankers Association who has taught high school and college students. "They don't understand a lot of the workplace values."
James Wilson, a former director of human resources at Crestar Bank, Richmond, Va., said many banks are developing programs for young executives and employees to give them the tools and techniques they need to be more effective workers.
"Years ago, we believed that we gave new employees enough exposure so that managing might take care of itself," said Mr. Wilson, who now operates a human resources consulting firm, Wilson Motivational Enterprises in Richmond. "As we developed our program, we recognized that the employees were not trained. A foundation needs to be there. And then it needs to be reinforced."
Bruce Tulgan, founder and chief executive of Rainmaker, a New Haven, Conn.-based consulting firm, said that banks should address the issue of educating younger bankers, but also manage them so that they can and develop their own skills.
Mr. Tulgan, who is 28, said it is possible to get more variety and quality in a young banker's performance.
His recently published book, "Managing Generation X: How to Bring Out the Best in Young Talent," seeks to debunk several myths that cast Generation Xers as slackers. He writes that managers should encourage younger workers to take risks to further themselves in the corporate environment. Ambitious young people are becoming more valuable and should not be allowed to slip through the cracks, he said.
In his book, 81 Generation Xers discussed which management styles motivated and satisfied them, and which did not. Mr. Tulgan said a large percentage of the respondents - whose identities were kept confidential - were employed with financial services firms like Morgan Stanley, Discover Card, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, and American Express.
More than a few of those interviewed said they felt indifferent about the companies they work for. That sort of attitude can cause problems for bankers managing Generation Xers, Mr. Tulgan noted.
Jerri Cowan, owner of Human Resources Consultants in Richmond, which specializes in assisting community banks, said younger bankers, more than their baby boomer counterparts, don't feel they get enough recognition for their work.
"It used to be that people would work hard, and then they were promoted to manager and 10 people would work under them," said Ms. Cowan, a former human resources director for $9.6 billion-asset Central Fidelity Bank, Richmond. "They worked on numerous projects, broadened themselves on special topics, and in the end, they were appointed if they showed the ability as a leader and could motivate others."
But corporate downsizings have reduced the ranks of middle managers and delayed the regular promotions, raises, and bonuses that were the traditional measures of advancement.
Mr. Kindschi of the Wisconsin Bankers Association sees other signs that attitudes about the workplace are changing.
"Young people now have less loyalty to their employer," he said. "They saw what loyalty brought their parents - mergers, acquisitions, and then downsizing. They see work (as a series of jobs) rather than as a career. It is a reality that all employers have to face when they hire, and banks must realize that they may not have an employee around for 20 or 25 years."
He said employees expect heightened sensitivity when it comes to accommodating their personal and family life. And Generation Xers, who fear the Social Security fund will be drained before they retire, are more savvy about demanding a 401(k) plan or other pension.
"The issues are coming up more and more in the new groups we are hiring now, compared to groups we hired 15 years ago," Mr. Kindschi said. "But I am not sure if that is unique to any one generation."
But all is not grim. There are a few groups, including the American Bankers Association's Education Foundation and the Young Bankers Section, that provide management training geared to younger bankers.
Some state bankers groups, including Mr. Kindschi's association, also offer guidance.
Paula Cravens, director of education at the Kentucky Bankers Association, said, "We are grooming our younger personnel for more important positions, to move into the senior management area. And they are very eager to learn."
And Ms. Cowan also suggested that the generation gap doesn't need to be as wide as it sometimes appears. These days, she noted, Generation Xers often report to a group of bright people who have been with the company for years - namely, the baby boomers.
"Those (baby boomers) with the degrees, technical experience, and good, strong management practice are the ones who will get along well with the Generation Xers," said Ms. Cowan. "They have proven themselves to integrate all types of people into their team, and Gen Xers will work hard for those guys."