When Generations Collide – Can We All Get Along?

By CareerSmart Learning Contributor, June 24, 2015, as published by Healthcare Hot Spot

Doctor giving a child a huge injection in arm

We’ve all heard the different remarks among colleagues, “These young doctors, they are so arrogant and unmotivated,” or “The older nurses always make such a big deal about any new changes.” Generational gaps have always been a part of our world, and while there may be challenges in bringing multiple generations together, there are also benefits. The diversity can add depth and richness to care teams, no matter what the setting, if individuals are valued for their contributions, perspectives, and experiences. Fortunately, today’s healthcare organizations are becoming more aware of the significant impact multiple generations can have in the workplace.

Today’s healthcare workforce is made up of employees from four generations described as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (also known as Millennials). While we must be careful of stereotypes, there are some general characteristics shared within each generational group. By understanding these characteristics, healthcare professionals can better understand and appreciate the views, expectations, and work habits of their colleagues.

Let’s look at each of these current generations.

Silent Generation

(Born 1930 – 1945, comprising 17% of the US population.) Although most in this generation have retired, there are still members of this generation working in healthcare, encompassing a wealth of valuable knowledge and experience. Common work characteristics of this group include being conservative, respectful of authority, and loyal to their employers. This group may be described as resistant to change, particularly in relation to technology that is designed to promote workplace efficiency.

Baby Boomers

(Born 1946 – 1964, comprising 25% of US population.) This group makes up the largest group of employees in healthcare today. They typically define themselves by their work and have a strong work ethic. Baby Boomers value loyalty, personal sacrifice, and quality work. Introduced to technology as adults, they may have adapted or are technology adverse or challenged. They appreciate clear instructions and live to work.

Generation X

(Born 1964 – 1980, comprising 23% of US population.) This group values autonomy and contribution with a productive work style that tends to produce high quality results. Their focus on balancing work and life supports their view of themselves as “free agents,” a marketable commodity in the work place. Gen-X’ers have grown up with technology and are competent with its use. Unlike Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers desire to do work that matters; they work to live.

Generation Y/Millennials

(Born 1981 – 2000, comprising 30% of the US population.) Part of the growth of this group is related to the influx of immigrants, making it the most diverse generation in the post-war period. This group is known for being goal-oriented and comfortable with change and emerging technologies while enjoying collaboration and multitasking. While they do question authority, they appreciate meaningful work. They have strong social needs, and work is yet another social outlet.

For the first time, we are seeing a workplace of four generations. This has the potential to cause friction. Millennials may be frustrated by their older co-workers’ slow adoption of technology and social media, while Boomers may complain that Millennials demand success from day one and are not willing to sacrifice and put in long hours to “get the job done.” While Baby Boomers tend to show more loyalty to employers, Generation-X and Generation-Y have both grown up in a time affected by downsizing and outsourcing, leading to feelings of being a free agent. Understanding and responding to these types of differences can assist in the creation of stronger healthcare teams.

No matter what generation you find yourself in, here are some suggestions to promote understanding and respect in a multigenerational workplace.

  1. Be Aware – the first step in fostering and developing the benefits of working in a multigenerational workplace is to be aware of how the differences and similarities affect the healthcare environment and patient care.
  2. Be Open – talk about generational issues. Respectfully share experiences and viewpoints in a supportive environment. Positively engage in discussions about this topic.
  3. Be a Good Example – model respect and understanding of generational differences.
  4. Participate in Inter-Generational Training – this education promotes understanding of what has shaped the values and beliefs of each generation. Not only will this understanding enhance team dynamics but it will also help healthcare professionals better understand the patients that they serve. For example, since the ability to communicate effectively is crucial in the healthcare setting, staff training should occur on the different styles of communication preferred by each generation. Education and professional development in generational competence will help staff develop awareness and sensitivity towards differences while also learning how to work collaboratively with these variations.
  5. Implement a Co-Mentoring Program – characteristics of each generation can be helpful to other generations. Each cohort has skill sets and perspectives that can be shared. Partnering with different generations can enhance understanding while different ways to approach and manage workplace challenges can be learned. For instance, younger workers can offer senior staff tips on how to manage new technology, while older workers can share professional knowledge obtained through experience.

Framing perceptions of generational differences as positive influences and strengths can benefit everyone in the workplace. Viewing these generational differences in attitudes, values, and behaviors as a positive force can enhance productivity, teamwork, communication, and job satisfaction while reducing conflict. Acknowledging and embracing generational differences is key in developing and maintaining optimal organizational performance and excellent patient care. In the end, it will be the patients who benefit most.

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June 24, 2015

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