Because I’m not under 60 (don’t ask), I think of myself as something of an expert on how different generations interact in professional settings. And let me tell you, it isn’t pretty.

I’ve heard snarly comments about “those old fogeys” and “dem snot-nosed kids.” I’ve attended meetings in which baby boomers sit on one side of the conference table glaring at the millennials on the other side, while the Gen Xers and Gen Yers huddle in separate corners of the room and snort and snarl and give each other the evil eye. I’ve witnessed raging arguments and shouting matches and fisticuffs. Why, it got so bad one time …

OK, OK, I made all that up. Sorry. The fact is that I’ve been in the workforce a long time and, yes, I’ve seen my share of disagreements among colleagues. I’ve had my share of disagreements with colleagues. But as far as I can remember, not one of those conflicts had a darn thing to do with the ages of the folks involved and everything to do with legitimate differences of opinion about how to resolve whatever issue was at hand. In most cases, conflicts were resolved and decisions were made the way professionals are supposed to accomplish such things — which is to say, professionally — however young or old any of them may have been.

At the same time, it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that each generation working side by side in business today — including in hospitals and health systems — tend to have defining characteristics that set them apart from one another. Recognizing that there are exceptions to every rule, we can generally agree, for example, that millennials — people born between 1982 and 2004 — are more comfortable with and adept at using information technology than previous generations. Sociologists and others tell us they also tend to be quick learners, flexible in their thinking, comfortable with change and, when it comes to their jobs, eager to move up in an organization — or from one organization to another.

This month’s cover story by Genevieve Diesing warns that the health care field lags when it comes to fully understanding the professional and lifestyle preferences of millennials. That includes their insistence on a reasonable balance between job and home, which does not mean, as some of their elders contend, that they lack sufficient drive or a healthy work ethic.

The most glaring lapse in many organizations is succession planning — identifying staff members who have the potential and motivation to move up into leadership positions, and then providing the mentoring, training and hands-on experience for them to do so.

Fortunately, awareness of the problem is growing, and not a moment too soon, as the pace of baby boomer retirements accelerates. Our cover story provides real-life examples of how some hospital and health system leaders are preparing their younger colleagues, and their organizations as a whole, for the day when members of the millennial generation dominate their boards, executive suites and middle management.

That day is coming sooner than a lot of you may think, and the future of your hospital is at stake. — Reach me at