Ethos Exchange: Generational Similarities in a Multigenerational Veterinary FieldFebruary 18, 2020
Welcome back to Ethos Exchange, our veterinary practice management series!
Our first topic of 2020 was generational similarities. That’s right, similarities! Usually, people think that there are vast differences between generations (i.e. Millennials vs. Baby Boomers) in both behavior and workplace ambitions. A study conducted by Jennifer Mencl and Scott W. Lester proved otherwise: there are actually more similarities than differences!
Given that over the next several years the workplace will include five different generations at once, it’s quite important for veterinary practice managers and supervisors to understand how to overcome our perceptions and work with team members and clients.
Background: study findings
If you do any kind of online research on generational differences, you’ll quickly find out that there are a lot of people who have a lot to say. Associate Medical Director Dr. Danielle Thomas approached this in a more empirical way, using the research study that approached this question more scientifically as a base for discussion.
The study measured how much each generation values the following eight work factors:
- Diversity climate
- Continuous learning
- Career advancement
- Immediate feedback and recognition
- Work-life balance and flexible work arrangement
- Involvement in decision making and a challenging job
- Teamwork and collaboration
- A financially rewarding job
The results of the study: “the present study’s findings demonstrated that generations share more similarities than differences regarding the extent to which work factors are important. The only three value differences found included career advancement opportunities, diversity climate, and immediate recognition and feedback” (Mencl & Lester).
The values of veterinary professionals
The veterinary field has quite an age spectrum, from veterinarians who are in their 60’s to vet techs who are in their 20’s. Understanding the values of new and current employees is crucial in hiring and retention.
The important thing to remember: those values are different from person to person. We must not generalize generations and place them into a group based on what we think they want/need!
What we really have to do is find out what these values mean to each individual.
This is where perception comes in. Take work-life balance: if an employee perceives that they aren’t getting work-life balance in their job, what does that mean? You have to find out what work-life balance means to that individual, as it may differ from what others perceive as work-life balance. For one employee it may be having earlier hours, for another it may be working longer days but shorter weeks, or perhaps it’s being able to rotate weekend shifts. It warrants a one-on-one discussion to find out what can be done.
Another thing to consider is how employees value work factors. For example, a vet tech may not want to move into a supervisor role just yet, but having the opportunity for promotion down the line may be important to them. So, opportunity for career advancement is important to them, even though they may not want to until later in their career.
Moving past stereotypes
People are people. The differences between us aren’t as great as we think even though we’re from different generations. And yet, stereotypes have lived on, where older generations have been calling younger generations “lazy, selfish, etc.” for years.
“We need to pay more attention to people as individuals and not be so concerned about what their age is…Age is a matter of mind. Some people are old before their time and some people never age.” Jack W., Vice President of People & Organization at Ethos Veterinary Health
When a new team member joins a team, it’s important to not let those generational stereotypes dictate how you treat, talk to, and what you expect of that individual. A new veterinarian in her 40’s may not be much different than a new VA in her early 20’s! Get to know them first.
From a client-facing perspective, the same rules apply. For vet techs, client care, and veterinarians who interact face-to-face with clients, it’s important to approach conversations without bias based on their age.
“What they want from me as a medical provider, what they want for communication style, and the amount of information and how they want it can be significantly different.” – Danielle T., Associate Medical Director at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital
Perhaps the 75-year old pet owner does prefer a text over a phone call, and maybe the 18-year old pet owner does want to hear about the empirical research behind their pet’s treatment. Having an individual, honest conversation with them and asking them what they want will help your medical teams have better interactions. Again, ask those questions you weren’t going to ask, they may surprise you!
Generational or situational?
Shared experiences can unite individuals and create cohesive teams. But are those shared experiences generational or situational? There are groups of people affected by large-scale life events, such as those who endured the hardships of the Great Depression. There are also groups of people affected by similar individual life events, such as growing up poor and having to work hard for where they are now. Whether it is generational or situational, those shared experiences can make or break a team.
Misunderstanding between generations
When teams do not have shared experiences, misunderstandings may arise. For example, younger generations are facing struggles and anxieties about things that older generations didn’t have when they were younger, such as student debt, retirement opportunities, and housing affordability. Team leaders need to be able to understand and mediate these differences and also keep them in mind when attracting new talent.
Conflict between generations
Not having shared experiences may also cause conflict among teams. In these situations, it’s once again important to have them sit down one-on-one and listen to the other’s perspective to help them understand where they’re coming from. In one example, Giselle explained how she mediated a conflict between a younger individual and an older individual on her team:
“The way one of them has always approached things in her life is different than how the other has been raised. Try thinking of things from her perspective and come back into the situation…and it did help them resolve their differences by thinking how the other thought.” – Giselle H., Hospital Service Manager at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital
Using age to your advantage
Let’s turn a challenge into an opportunity! Age can be quite a powerful tool.
Older veterinarians can help train younger veterinarians using their experience they have gained over the years. They may have knowledge and techniques that are tried and tested and can only be learned through experience, not just schooling.
On the flip side, a younger veterinarian may have new fresh-out-of-school knowledge that wasn’t around when older veterinarians were studying. So, these younger doctors can teach the newest and most innovative practices.
- One-on-ones are so important: you will never know what is bothering your employees, what they strive for, and what will keep them on your team if you don’t ask them individually.
- Don’t stereotype or perpetuate stereotypes: a person is only as young as their mind, learn more about them as a person before you try to approach them in a generalized way. And don’t foster a culture of stereotypes in your hospital!
- Ask more questions: focus on asking your team members questions instead of making assumptions of their needs. Our two ears can be far more powerful than our one mouth!
Thank you to Danielle Thomas, DVM, DACVECC, for leading this discussion!
Next topic: Organizational Grit
Mencl, Jennifer, and Scott W. Lester. “More Alike Than Different: What Generations Value and How the Values Affect Employee Workplace Perceptions.” Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, vol. 21, no. 3, 2014, pp. 257–272., doi:10.1177/1548051814529825.
Written by RACHAEL GILLIS