People that age feel entitled. They don't put in the hours. They won't do the hard work. They just don't get it.
I heard those comments at a roundtable last year on multi-generational staffing in hospitals. Panelists included executives, middle managers, physicians and nurses, and they ranged in age from late 20s to early 60s.
I bet you can guess which end of the spectrum that particular speaker came from. Can't you?
The fact is, I've been hearing comments like those for years, and not always from the obvious suspects. Sometimes it's a department manager lamenting the lack of a successor willing to put in the same hours he's worked for 20 years. Sometimes it's a 30-something nurse complaining that her supervisor is delegating all the most strenuous tasks to others while waiting for her own retirement to kick in. Sometimes it's fresh-faced physicians scoffing at their baby-boomer colleagues' discomfort with the latest technology—or boomer physicians shaking their heads at younger clinicians' refusal to take call or sit on any hospital committees.
The generation gap is nothing new. Way back in the '60s, whipper-snappers like myself weren't supposed to trust anybody over 30. Now we've been over 30 for nearly half our lives and can hardly believe we're working on the same floor with people who weren't around during the heyday of student activism or the Beatles or fondue.
The difference these days is that we're talking generation gaps. At no time before this very one have so many employees from so wide a range of ages toiled side by side in the same workplace. You know the labels—we've got the boomers, born between 1945 and 1964, and the Xers (1965-1980) and the Yers, (aka Millennials, born after 1980). We've even got the so-called Matures, men and women born before 1946 who are still out there on the front lines either because the Great Recession took a nasty bite out of their retirement accounts or because they remain energetic and engaged enough to keep doing the thing they've dedicated their lives to doing.
It all adds up to a boiling kettle of clashing values, expectations and sensitivities. And it takes a deft chef to keep the kettle from blowing its lid to kingdom come.
Hospital CEOs recognize the benefits of having a staff that reflects the world we live in. They understand that older employees bring a strong work ethic and an institutional knowledge that would be sorely missed. They understand that younger workers have a lust for innovation that will keep their hospital, and American health care, pushing the boundaries of patient care ever forward.
What they need to learn is where the generations might scrape up against each other in ways that could be hurtful to individuals and to the organization as a whole. They need to consider whether they themselves have certain built-in age-related biases. And they need to find ways to ease the tensions and harness the energy that diversity produces. On future Tuesdays in this space, I'll offer background and guidance from experts on generational issues in the hospital workforce. In the meantime, I invite you to respond to three simple questions. You don't need to tell me your name, but please include your job title and which generational category you fall into. Have no fear: When I report back on this very informal survey, I won't include e-mail addresses or anything else that might identify respondents. And the questions are:
1. Have you witnessed any tensions between staff of different generations in your workplace?
2. Are employees who are significantly older or younger than yourself as good at their jobs as they should be? Why not?
3. What, if anything, can management do to help the generations work together more effectively?
E-mail me your answers at firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks for your time.