"Mr. Santamour, I'm sure you are a very good writer," the man in the phone message intoned—not quite a ringing endorsement, but, hey, it was early Monday morning and my expectations were not high. "I'm on the staff of a large suburban hospital and I just want to say that your articles about friction between employees of different ages are a bunch of crap."
And the week was off and running.
I've been writing this column every Tuesday since we here at Hospitals & Health Networks took H&HN Daily live in February. As the caller noted, a lot of what I report about relates to generational issues, including the fact that there are now four distinct age groups working in hospitals: the Silents, baby boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers. I've quoted experts and referred to research about the different attitudes and expectations each age group brings to the job and how that can sometimes lead to clashes.
Many readers have called or e-mailed to say they've witnessed just that kind of behavior in their own hospitals. Some described situations in which generational conflicts disrupted patient care and even, in one extreme case, made a particular unit virtually dysfunctional. Others shared how they or their leaders are actively working to build understanding and teamwork among employees of all ages.
Clearly, however, not everyone buys into the concept. Some readers have told me generational conflicts are nonexistent in their hospitals or way too minor to rate any kind of attention. "You are making a mountain out of a molehill," one e-mailer chided. Here's a sample of comments from folks who share her skepticism:
- "What's new about people of different ages working together? It's been like that throughout history. My great-grandfather, grandfather and uncles all worked on the family farm together. No conflicts there."
- "I manage nurses from 28 to 64 and if some of them have conflicts, it's not about what generation they belong to; those people would be trouble whatever age they were."
- "I resent the person in your article who said that younger staff will only look at Facebook and won't read long reports. There are no age issues in the workforce, only in the minds of managers like that."
- "I'm a baby boomer and I am excellent at using technology. Being good at technology has nothing to do with one's age. We have some young employees that are terrible at it. Age issues are a myth that you are perpetuating."
- "I think that by telling people they belong to a certain generation and they are supposed to act a certain way, you are setting them up to clash on the job. I supervise a lot of baby boomers and they are as different from one another as they are from the kids behind them. And the kids are different from each other, also."
- "A person either has a good work ethic or she doesn't. It's not about her age. I know lazy baby boomers and I know lazy 20-somethings."
- "Why is it up to a supervisor, manager or executive to deal with people based on their age? Isn't even acknowledging that a form of bias?"
- "People should behave like professionals, whether they work in an executive office or in a patient care unit. If they don't, they shouldn't be allowed to work in the hospital, whatever age they are."
So, what do you think? Are generational conflicts a reality in your hospital? If they do exist, are they just typical of the tensions in any workplace? Is ignoring them the best strategy? Should generational differences be considered when trying to retain or hire staff?
Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate all feedback. Praise and criticism are equally welcome—well, at least they're equally invited.