There are five different generations in today's workplace: the Traditionalists, also sometimes referred to as the Veterans or the Builders, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials, also called Generation Y and finally, Generation Z, also called the iGeneration or the Post-Millennials. While researchers have described each of these generations based on the year of birth, what truly defines each generation is the life experiences that have shaped their ethics and values.
These are the people who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Their values include conservative spending, loyalty, and unwavering respect for authority. These employees would be content working in the same career and for the same organization for the duration of their careers.
One of the largest groups in the work force, Baby Boomers are characterized by independence, materialism and living on credit. This is the generation that fought for equality. They saw more women leaving the home to enter the work force. Because they watched their parents struggle financially, they define themselves by their jobs, how long and hard they work, and what they earn.
Many Gen-X'ers grew up in households with two working parents. They were the "latch-key kids" who are now fiercely independent and self-motivated. The socio-political events of their time including the Watergate scandal and the Chernobyl disaster explain their cynicism toward large institutions.
Millennials grew up being nurtured by their helicopter parents and are defined by a strong sense of self. They are used to being rewarded for just showing up (participation trophies) and need instant gratification. They are tech dependent, globally aware, and socially responsible. They also seek work-life balance and require diversity in the workplace.
While some Millennials can still recall dial-up internet and life without cell phones, the newest generation to the workforce, Generation Z, is the first generation to grow up in a truly global universe with everything right at their fingertips. This has made Generation Z'ers excellent multitaskers, but they struggle to maintain focus for long periods of time. They are extremely entrepreneurial and place a high value on uniqueness and individualism.
How Do You Motivate Multi-Generational
Employees in Your Practice?
Understanding the differences between the generational groups is the key to motivating employees with different ethics and values. Here are some ways that you can adapt your practice to the varying needs of each generation:
Management Style: While Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are accustomed to a more authoritative or directive management style, these managers need to recognize that Gen-X'ers, Millennials, as well as Generation Z'ers require more independence. They prefer a hands-off management approach with more coaching rather than directing. Lead by example to earn their respect and dedication.
Empowerment: Empower the Millennials and Post-Millennials in your practice by tasking them with managing your social media presence. Give them parameters to work with (e.g. appropriate versus inappropriate content for your Facebook page), then step back, and allow them to control the process.
Technology: Do you frown upon the use of personal smart phones at work? Most Millennials and virtually every Post-Millennial grew up with a smartphone in their hands, and in their view it is an extension of who they are. Rather than buck the trend, embrace technology and use it to your advantage. Set up a private Facebook page for your practice and use it as a means to communicate with your employees. This is especially useful in practices where employees are working different shifts and on different days. It's time to replace the "intra-office memo" with social media messaging.
Scheduling: Whereas Baby Boomers live to work, Millennials and Gen-X'ers (to a lesser degree), work to live and truly value work-life balance. They are far more willing to sacrifice higher wages and organizational advancement for structured scheduling, paid time off and flexibility, than any generation before. With more women entering the veterinary profession each year, it is more important than ever to consider job sharing plans and to adjust schedules so that weekends and late-night shifts are equally shared among employees.
Praise and Recognition: As individual self-starters, Gen-X'ers do not seek constant feedback for the work they do. By contrast, Millennials are used to everybody being a winner and to being recognized for just showing up. Make sure you acknowledge and show appreciation for your staff - and do it on your private Facebook page!
Instant Gratification: While Baby Boomers are comfortable with working hard for a long-term pay-off of promotion or partnership, younger generations need instant gratification to stay motivated. Offer ways for employees to earn rewards, like a paid day off, or a trip to the salon or spa. Have a competition for Employee of the Month and offer a Starbucks gift card as the prize. Implement a bonus or incentive pay structure that will motivate employees to work hard while not feeling entitled to the additional compensation.
Social-Mindedness: Being socially aware is a core value for many Millennials. This includes everything from biking to work and driving fuel-efficient vehicles, to conservation and volunteering for charitable causes. Millennials will be more motivated to work in an environment that shares these values. Whether you install energy efficient lightbulbs in your practice or participate in a vaccine clinic for low income pet owners, your employees will respect you more and reward you with their loyalty.
With the growing number of Millennials and now, Post-Millennials in the workforce, veterinary practices need to shift their perceptions of staff retention from employee rewards/compensation to employee engagement. Recognizing and embracing the differing generational values and expectations of today's workforce, and then adjusting your management practices to meet those expectations, will foster teamwork, cooperation and a positive, supportive work environment in your practice.