When my daughter, Victoria, was little, she was looking at some old albums in our garage. She was staring in awe at the Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, and others. She was commenting on how pretty the artwork was when an album slipped out. She looked at the actual album and exclaimed, "That is the biggest CD I ever saw!" That memory makes me think of two different things: one, people in my generation find that funny because it, of course, is not a CD; and two, people in the youngest generation may not have even seen a CD, let alone an album. In today's workforce, there can be four or more generations working together in the same practice. Managing or working in a multi-generational workforce can add an extra level of complexity to any position. This article will explore the generations currently in the workforce, how different generations communicate, and ways to promote a multi-generational workforce.
While there are generations before these, this article will concentrate on the four main generations with the largest numbers currently in the workforce.
Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964). Baby Boomers get their nickname from the "baby boom" following the end of World War II, numbering around 76 million. Generally, Boomers are hard workers and have the "live to work" mind set. Baby Boomers lived through wars (Cold War, Vietnam War, Korean War), the Civil Rights movement, and the hippie movement.
Baby Boomers are generally:
- Not tech "natives"
- Used to learning by lecture
- Book readers
- Good with people skills
Gen X (Born 1965-1980). Generation X (also called the forgotten generation) focuses more on a work-life balance, which some think is due to the fact that they had more "latch-key kids" than previous generations due to the high divorce rate among their Boomer parents. Gen X'ers are shaped by their life experiences of the end of the Cold War, AIDS, the crack epidemic, and the creation of the internet. This was also the first generation to usher in more informality at work (casual Friday, anyone?).
Gen X'ers are generally:
- Independent learners
- Prefer internet research to books
- In need of immediate feedback/instant gratification
Gen Y (Born 1981-1995). Generation Y, or Millennials, were deemed entitled and bratty by Time. This generation is responsible for the creation of social media (for better or worse). Millennials grew up with two major recessions, mass shootings, 9/11, and the two longest wars in American history (Iraq War and the War on Terror in Afghanistan).
Millennials are generally:
- More impatient
- In need of more structure
- Polite and civic minded
- Noted to have short attention spans
Gen Z (Born 1996-2015). Generation Z, also called Zoomers, are the first fully digital native generation. Zoomers tend to be more social media savvy than preceding generations and are more aware of social justice and political issues than many other generations were at the same age. As this is the newest generation, there is not as much data on them as the other generations.
Zoomers are generally:
- Digitally fluent
- More socially active
- Of the mindset that technology is a way of life, not a tool
- Like video learning (YouTube, anyone?)
Benefits of a Multi-Generational Team
There are many positive aspects to having a multi-generational team. Different generations tend to have different perspectives as life experiences influence how people relate to and interact with each other. When there is a problem to be solved, this can allow for many different ideas and approaches to correct it. This also allows for learning opportunities between employees. Multi-generational teams that work well together can enjoy a rich sharing of knowledge and increased job satisfaction.
Bringing the Team Together
Some thought should go into how to bring employees of multiple generations together to work as a team. Allowing open dialogue between team members can help to chip away at generational barriers/biases. I have found that it can be helpful to pair employees of different generations together on projects. At one healthcare practice, I had younger employees teamed up with older employees when we updated our computer system. This helped employees appreciate each other's talents and perspectives as they worked together, and each explained their own methodology.
Informal gatherings can also help employees see each other in a different way. Just sharing information about one another can be helpful. I started a company newsletter when I was a director at one healthcare system that included an employee spotlight segment. Each month, I would write about an employee and their job, but also about their personal lives a little. I would state their hobbies, or favorite things to do in their spare time, etc. The president of the health system told me that he got many compliments on that segment. He said that employees were finding things in common with one another and it made them feel more like a team.
When Generations Collide
It can be difficult to get an entire office on the same page all the time; adding in multiple generations with different perspectives can make it even more so.
- Jim, a Boomer, is annoyed that Brent, a Millennial, wears sandals in the summer to the office. He does not think that it is professional attire.
- Harlow, a Zoomer, complains that Susan, a Boomer, takes too long to complete her work in the computer (which is second nature to Harlow).
- Margaret doesn't think that the younger employees should be calling patients by their first names. The younger employees feel it is pretentious to use a patient's proper name.
- Kenny is constantly on his personal phone at work. He leaves it on his desk and regularly checks his messages during the day.
- Cindy is always 5-10 minutes early to work every day, while Toni seems to be 10-15 minutes late a couple of times a week. Toni states that she does not understand the issue as her work is always completed on time.
- Chloe complains that Ed goes outside every few hours for a smoke break; Ed fires back that every time he walks by Chloe's desk, she is watching cat videos on YouTube.
How would you react to these issues as a manager? What if the employee that needed to be reprimanded was older than you (perhaps the same age as your father/mother?)
Managing Multiple Generations
There are a few things that a manager/director/supervisor can do to help keep the practice running smoother when it comes to dealing with a multi-generational group (or any employee group). My first piece of advice is to avoid labeling employees. Don't linger on generational differences with an employee ("I know that you're a Gen X'er, but….") ("Remember, Jennifer is older, so these computer upgrades are harder for her to understand"). As the manager/director/supervisor, it is also important to create clear expectations. Make sure the employees know what is expected of all employees regardless of their age. Try to be as flexible as possible. Allow employees to work to their highest potential in a manner that works for them, even if it is different from other employees. One employee may need weekly prompting with formal outlines, while another may just need the deadline and to be left alone.
When communicating with employees, vary communication methods. Zoomers may be very comfortable with remote meetings, while Boomers may want to meet face-to-face in the conference room. Mix it up a little; use in-person meetings, virtual meetings, e-mail blasts, even a hard-copy newsletter perhaps. Be careful not to favor one generation over another. Sometimes it is easier to "click" with those of your own generation, so you give allowances to those employees. But, sometimes, if you are a younger manager, it may be harder for you to discipline an older worker, so you give allowances to older employees. These things will get picked up on by your team.
A very important thing, though, is to get feedback from your employees. You need to know what is, and isn't, working. There is always room for improvement. Allow multiple ways to receive feedback to encourage response. I used to have my employees give me an informal performance appraisal so I could see what was perceived as my strong and weak areas. I allowed them to be submitted anonymously so that no one felt that I would seek retribution. When holding meetings, I would always ask what I (or the health system) could do to support them better.
Having a cohesive team takes a lot of work, but it offers high rewards. Being able to bring a multi-generational workforce together allows for a wider talent pool to choose from in the market. All employees should be treated equally, no matter their age. When people feel valued, they flourish.
Betty Hovey, CCS-P, CDIP, CPC, COC, CPMA, CPCD, CPB, CPC-I,
is the Senior Consultant/Owner of Compliant Health Care Solutions, a medical consulting firm that provides compliant solutions to issues for all types of healthcare entities. Chcs.consulting