Generation wars: Can't we all just get along?

Generation wars: Can't we all just get along?

She's a workaholic. He doesn't get the rules. She wants a steady, independent work environment, while he prefers lots of activity and public recognition. Here's a quick guide to the care and feeding of team members from different generations.
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Mar 01, 2008


Illustration by Jennifer Taylor
My favorite band is playing tonight. I may quit if they don't give me the night off." "The way my team bickers and fights with each other! Honestly! I feel like a surrogate parent." "Let me do my job and I'll let you do yours." Ever heard—or said—one of these statements? It's not unusual for sparks to fly when generations collide in the workplace.

Older generations complain that younger generations are lazy and focused on fun, while younger generations complain that older generations are inflexible.

So what gives? As a new generation of workers joins the workforce, people from every generation must look for ways to bridge the gap. Here's a quick look at characteristics from each of the four generations in the workplace and advice on how to leverage everyone's skills to create a more efficient, productive veterinary practice.

The New Millennium Generation (Born after 1980)

New Millenniums average six hours a day using technology for entertainment, education, and communication, so they understand technology better than most people born before 1970. Their tech-savvy skills and the glut of job opportunities have given this group a strong sense of self-worth. The result: employees who aren't afraid to be fired or ask for what they want from their jobs. Where Baby Boomers say, "I'm lucky to have the job," New Millenniums say, "You're lucky to have me."

New Millenniums care about their jobs and want to be proud of their performance. However, their idea of hard work may differ from the view of members from other generations. It's likely New Millenniums are bored by some of their responsibilities and see their job as a stepping stone, not a final destination.

Tips to work with them:

  • Use their tech skills. Since technology is an everyday tool and a way of life for New Millenniums, solicit New Millennium team members to help with technological tasks, such as installing and implementing new software or updating your practice Web site.

  • Reach out. New Millenniums may struggle to adapt when they witness animals suffering. So show your support by comforting them and providing tools to help them adjust to this part of their job.

  • Ask for their opinions. They might give great ideas for driving traffic to your Web site or updating the look of your appointment cards and promotional materials. And poll them for what young people watch for when choosing a practice for their pets.

  • Offer instant gratification. If you catch New Millenniums performing well, offer immediate feedback. Remember, New Millenniums are accustomed to getting information fast.

  • Get real with the rules. Explain which ones you can bend, change, or ditch. Working with younger generations offers opportunities to question old rules and breathe fresh air into your practice.

Generation X (1965-1980)

Gen Xers watched their workaholic parents lose their marriages, jobs, and stock options after Black Monday in 1987, the second largest U.S. stock market crash. Consequently, when the recession ended and Gen Xers entered the workforce, they displayed a different attitude about their employers and life balance issues. Gen Xers are less loyal to employers and co-workers and more loyal to themselves. Their personal lives are just as important to them as their professional lives.

Gen Xers view their job as a chance to improve skills, try something new, or become a stronger candidate for future jobs. They're the most independent generation in the workforce. Their focus on high-quality results and productivity make them a much-desired employee in a veterinary practice. So you'll naturally go to Gen Xers when you want to update a protocol, consider a new piece of equipment, or start a second location.