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Managing and Motivating a Multigenerational Practice

July 12, 2010
. Decide as a group which norms will work best for your multigenerational team, and put those policies and procedures in place now

by Fran Pangakis, RDH, and Shari Tastad, RHD, BS

For the first time in our nation’s history, we have four generations in our workforce, often in the same work place. Not surprisingly, each generation has their own way of viewing the world, and of communicating, which can make life difficult for the person who is tasked with managing these diverse groups within a confined area in the office.
Let’s take a closer look at who these generations are and what they want and need in a manager:

*Generation Z (GenZ) and Nexters are those born after 2000. For the purpose of this article, we will include all these groups in the Millennial category. And we can’t forget “Cuspers," people who were born on the “cusp” of one generation or the other. Cuspers may feel a stronger connection with one generation over another, but often display behaviors of both.

So … what’s a “generational manager” to do?
If we were to sit all four generations around a table and discuss generational issues relating to famous people, historical events, TV/radio shows, inventions, work beliefs — just to name a few — we would undoubtedly end up with very diverse opinions and a very lively discussion! This is not surprising, considering the varying events, experiences, values, work beliefs, and learning styles each generation has grown up with.

A myriad of issues must be considered when managing and communicating with employees of different generations. We’ll discuss a few of the most important in terms of "bridging the gap" between them, as well as ways of helping each group contribute to — and be a part of — the long-term success of your practice.Showing appreciation across the generationsCommunicating appreciation to team members of different generations will require different modalities. Each generation has its own idea of what rewards should look like.If you have employees from different generations and want to acknowledge each of them for a job well done, you might find the following information helpful:Traditionalists: Appreciate the “reward for service.” They look for a reward after 10, 20, 30 years of service. This is the “gold watch” generation. Baby Boomers: Reward with actual cash bonuses and titles. Remember, they are the competitive generation! GenX: Reward with flex time, vacation days, and continuous training. Remember, they are resume-builders.Millennials: Reward with cross-training and flexible schedules, as well as continual feedback. Occasionally working from home is a big perk for this generation. Overall, celebrate successes regularly and vary motivational rewards by giving cash, a day off with pay, or training. Feedback — who wants, and needs, what? Traditionalists: Grew up believing “no news is good news.”Baby Boomers: Appreciate face-to-face feedback in a formal setting
Appreciate feedback that is instant, direct, and regular. They also want to have their good work reinforcedMillennials: Appreciate continual feedback. To them, “no news is bad news,” so they want feedback immediately, whether it’s positive or negative. If, like many dentists, you are a Traditionalist, you will struggle giving instant and continual feedback. Conversely, if you have a younger boss, you may find you get more feedback than you anticipated or needed. While giving or getting feedback may not come naturally to the Traditionalist or Boomer manager, it is essential for you to build on this skill if you intend to minimize turnover in your practice. The crucial issue of “fun at work”Understanding how the generations feel about “fun at work” is also vital to your success. Traditionalists: Not sure you can have fun at work. It’s an end to a means.Boomers: It’s all about a productive day. Compete and win! Invented “Casual Friday."GenX: Fun at work is a social gathering — it’s about being with my co-worker "family."Millennials: Working from home is the best. Constantly evaluate if their job is “fun.” If not, be prepared for them to jump ship. So how do you tackle the question of “fun at work”? A staff retreat that combines work and play is a great way to start, and it's also a team morale-builder. Working together to understand and acknowledge generational differences can propel you forward by leaps and bounds. It gives you the chance to:
  • Get to know your employees.
  • Find out what motivates them.
  • Look at what makes you uncomfortable communicating with them.
  • Learn how to broaden your skills.

Look at feedback systems that support all generations, remembering that feedback goes both ways — both up and down — especially with the Xers. One-size-fits-all may not be the best approach in today’s work environment.

Consider these generational “case studies.” What would you do?

Case Study #1: You have two team members, both good workers, who don’t like each other. One is in her late 40s (a Boomer), the other is in her early 20s (a Millennial). Their animosity toward each other causes friction in your office. What do you do?

Case Study #2: To you, punctuality has always been a demonstration of respect within the workplace. But there doesn’t seem to be a person under 30 in your office who shows up consistently on time. What do you do?

Case Study #3: One of your employees is 30 years your junior. She is bright and well-trained, and while she can be warm and friendly, she also possesses a "take-no-prisoners" attitude when addressing certain issues. This has produced considerable friction within the practice, sometimes even with patients. The one time you approached her about this, she said, basically, “They’re wrong, I’m right.” What do you do?

Working effectively with multiple generations is not an option — it's a necessity!

Whether you like it or not, Millennials are the up-and-coming generation at work, and there are a lot of them! Combined, GenX and Millennials outnumber Boomers and Traditionalists, and their effect and influence is not something organizations can afford to avoid or ignore.

Priority number one in every organization should be to help all employees avoid confusing perception with reality. Create opportunities — workshops, informal get-togethers, mentoring — for members of each generation, so that they have the opportunity to share their views and perspectives.

The cost of not doing so can be significant in terms of:

  • Turnover rates
  • Tangible costs (recruitment, hiring, training, retention)
  • Intangible costs (morale)
  • Grievances and complaints
  • Perceptions of fairness and equality

As an employer, and the leader of your team, do not allow tradition and convenience to trump the opportunity to change and improve productivity. Decide as a group which norms will work best for your multigenerational team, and put those policies and procedures in place now.

Fran Pagakis is a certified training and development professional with extensive skills in facilitation, communications, training, coaching, and professional development. She is a certified consultant with the human resource and personnel policy firm Bent Ericksen & Associates, as well as being their lead trainer for Integrated Performance Management (IPM). IPM is a state of the art tool that is used for hiring, team building, leadership development and employee motivation. Fran also coaches other consultants on how to achieve their goals and “make the impossible possible” and is a member of the Academy of Dental Management Consultants.

Shari Tastad RDH, BS, is president of Pathways, and brings energy, expertise, business savvy, and a proven results-oriented approach to her work and her clients. Assisting clients in discovering their individual leadership brilliance is her forte’. Shari has worked with hundreds of businesses nationally as a management consultant and business coach, inspiring teams to solidify their visions and achieve greater successes through the five paths offered in her coaching. Shei has 17 years of clinical dental hygiene and 14 years of experience with consulting and coaching.