February 24, 2017

Generation Gaps: Can't We All Just Get Along?

The generation gap in today's workforce can be both good and bad. Here we present ways to make generational differences in perspective work in your practice. 

By Meredith Rogers, MS, CMPP

Despite many YouTube videos showing otherwise, we all know that cats and dogs really can get along. And even though it may seem otherwise, the same holds true for Baby Boom, Generation X, and Millennial generations. Today’s veterinary practice teams are diverse. In fact, it is not unusual to have multiple generations working side by side. Although all staff members should be viewed as individuals and boundaries between generations are hazy, each period’s economic, political, and social events have shaped beliefs and behaviors enough to enable some generalities to be made.

Negative Effects of Generation Gaps 
The workforce is composed primarily of four generations (Table). Members of each generation have distinct expectations and perceptions about what they want their work environment to provide and how they should behave as employees. Differences in each generation’s approach to work, communication style, and world view can lead to resentment when a person of one generation does not act or speak in a way that is congruent with that of someone from a different generation. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, almost 75% of companies experience some level of generational conflict, and veterinary practices are no exception.1

Consider these comments you might hear if your practice employs people of different generations:
  • Millennial: “My boss doesn’t listen to my ideas. I thought it would be a good idea for us to advertise in the local online community newsletter, and she just blew me off.”
  • Generation X: “When I first graduated I would do anything, no matter how basic, and then ask for more. These new employees expect a raise after 6 months of doing just the bare minimum.”
  • Baby Boomer: “We have a great receptionist who is engaged in the clinic with both the patients and clients, but he just sits there and won’t participate in our monthly status meetings.”

Intergenerational tension can undermine not only morale among employees in the workplace but also the day-to-day operation of a practice. Veterinary practice success (or failure) is based on two distinct factors: (1) the treatment the practice provides and (2) the smoothness of what happens behind the scenes.

Consider this scenario: Two technicians of different generations do not get along, so it takes them twice the time to obtain an x-ray, which delays you from seeing your next patient and prevents the client from leaving the practice in a reasonable amount of time. The client subsequently posts a bad review on Yelp that is seen by hundreds of local residents who then decide your practice is not for them.

Minimizing Generational Tension
A number of tactics can be used to help minimize and mediate generational tension in the practice.

Realize that every generation has something to teach the others.
Older generations often have a wealth of experience that only comes from time on the job, and younger generations tend to be technology savvy. Put those skills to use for the benefit of the entire practice. For example, a Baby Boomer could deliver a lunch-and-learn to the rest of the team on a difficult technique that he has mastered over time. Younger generations can help the practice boost marketing efforts through social media.

Find and cultivate commonalities.
For example, both Generation X and Millennials value a good work–life balance, which may help with structuring work shifts, especially if one person prefers working mornings and someone else loves dealing with those after-hours emergencies.

Capitalize on generational differences.
If a Baby Boomer employee becomes frustrated by a younger employee’s lack of expertise in a certain technique, turn the Baby Boomer into a mentor. Not only will this help the Baby Boomer feel important, it will allow the Millennial to feel like you are committed to her growth. If a Generation X employee is perceived as disengaged, give her a challenging assignment that reinvigorates her and fulfills her need to accomplish a meaningful task.
 

"The workforce is changing, but all it takes is a little understanding for everyone to just get along."


Promote discussion among staff about each generation’s perceptions, so that everyone can be better understood and conflicts can be resolved more easily. Team members who understand generational differences can adapt their interactions to better suit their coworkers’ needs.

Generational Perspectives Among Clients Affect Your Practice, Too 
Much has been written about generational differences among coworkers, but what about your clients? The fact is that generational perspectives can have a great impact on how clients view your practice.

Marketing and Client Communications
If you want them to hear you, the method you use to communicate with your clients may be just as important as what you say to them. For example, a Generation X client may prefer to receive updates about his pet via email, but a Baby Boomer may be offended if she doesn’t receive a phone call from the practice. Marketing your practice to the community should also take generational differences into consideration, keeping in mind that Millennials are the largest living generation today and are entering their prime earning and spending years. When advertising to Baby Boomers, the history of your practice and the extent of your education are seen as signs of credibility, whereas a Millennial may not even be aware that your hospital is just down the street unless you have a social media presence.



In the Practice
When engaging with clients in person, adjust your communication style to what would be most acceptable to them. A Baby Boomer client may have experienced the same medical emergency with a previous pet and may be perfectly comfortable handling extra home care (e.g., giving subcutaneous fluids), but you may need to admit the pet of a Millennial who is unsure about giving injections. Perhaps instead of calling at the end of the day to give an update to a Generation X client whose pet is at the hospital, send a photo and a note via text. Because phone calls take considerable time, this may free you up for other things that can generate income, such as handling another appointment.

Conclusion
All team members want basically the same things—to do their job well, to be understood, and to be valued. Providing the best care for the pets in your charge is what drives everyone to come to work every day. The workforce is changing and the world is changing, but all it takes is a little understanding for everyone to just get along.
 
Meredith Rogers, Generation X, has a bachelor of science degree in animal health from the University of Connecticut and a master of science degree in microbiology and molecular genetics from Rutgers University. She has more than 19 years of experience creating content for a variety of healthcare audiences. She lives in Kingston, New Jersey, and shares her life with a horse, a dog, and a cat.
References:
  1. Society for Human Resource Management. Intergenerational conflict in the workplace SHRM poll. Available at: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Pages/intergenerationalconflictintheworkplace.aspx.  Accessed November 27, 2016.
  2. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/ft_15-05-04_genlaborforcecompositionstacked-2/. Accessed November 27, 2016.


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