Staff Development

How to successfully manage multiple generations in the workplace

February 6, 2020 9:48 pm
  • Generational dynamics are pivotal in healthcare, with a workforce that is composed of four generations and patient populations spanning five generations.
  • Leaders can bridge the gaps that exist among employees of different generations if they start by establishing a common understanding.
  • Attitudes about technology are a primary driver of differences among generations.

As someone who has built a career on researching generational dynamics in the workplace, Jason Dorsey views healthcare as uniquely complex.

“What you see is four and sometimes five generations working side by side in one physical location,” said Dorsey, the president of the Center for Generational Kinetics and a keynote speaker at HFMA’s 2020 Annual Conference, June 28-July 1 in San Antonio. 

“At the same time, they are serving easily five generations, and often multiple generations at once because they’re serving families, or at least having family input or influence. So it’s a particularly acute environment for generational divides and challenges to happen.”

When healthcare leaders learn the right approaches to bridging that divide, they reap substantial gains for their organizations. The result is a harmonious and productive workplace in which all employees contribute to their potential, and the rewards even go beyond that.

“What we see is that understanding generations — particularly around communication, trust and decision-making — can go a very long way in helping healthcare professionals understand how to better connect with different generations of patients,” Dorsey said. 

At a time when the industry is becoming more consumer-centric, the potential benefit of better communication with patients is significant. 

Four generations under one roof

Most payrolls these days are composed of:

  • Baby boomers (1946-64)
  • Generation X (1965-76)
  • Millennials (1977-95)
  • Generation Z (1996-TBD)

“We see some pretty strong differences in generational preferences for how they look for jobs, what gets them to accept a job, the kind of training they want in a job up front and then over a career, and also what gets them to stay in a job,” Dorsey said.

For leaders, Dorsey said, the first step in addressing the gap is creating awareness that the gap exists, and that it’s not about right and wrong. “It’s important to start with a generational conversation and not a millennial or Gen Z conversation. It’s about all the generations having to work together.”

Leaders can use specific approaches to establish common ground among different generations. For example, “An easy way to create more openness to talking about generations is having members of different generations share key events of their childhood, such as the moon landing, the Berlin Wall coming down, their first phone or even the end of World War II,” Dorsey said. “Asking people to share the events that shaped them as kids and teenagers is always a great way to create better understanding about each generation and what influenced their worldview and thinking.”

Such methods are not just for C-suite leaders, Dorsey pointed out; front-line managers can and should use them as well.

“Rarely do we see, ‘Let’s drive massive change’ and it works [out] that way,” he said. “It tends to be more strategic and thoughtful, where you’re building momentum up to the bigger change rather than saying, ‘Let’s change everything.’”

Generational attitudes about technology and money

Technology is the biggest driver of the generational gap, Dorsey has found. “Different generations have different definitions of what’s normal when it comes to technology, and that influences everything,” he said, including communication preferences. Phone, text, email, Snapchat or face-to-face conversations may be the optimal mode of communication for one generation and not for others.  

Although millennials are perceived as being tech experts, Dorsey said, that assessment somewhat misses the mark. 

“There’s this perception that millennials are tech-savvy,” Dorsey said. “Our research shows that they’re not tech-savvy, they’re actually tech-dependent. That has massive implications for the workforce.”

Dorsey predicts some Gen Z members soon will leapfrog millennials in organizational hierarchies. He recognizes that’s a controversial position but says traits such as a drive to put themselves in a strong position financially and avoid relying on the government to provide for their retirement “are creating this perfect storm for them to enter adulthood on a better footing.”  

In general, labels that apply to the different generations do not amount to boxes that contain every member of a given generation, Dorsey said. Rather, those labels should be considered clues on how to most effectively connect with and influence people. When reframing the generational dynamic in this way, he said, “we get a lot more buy-in.”

Leadership can’t be boilerplate

The insight from Dorsey’s presentation, and from breakout sessions that will be part of the Financial Leadership track at the Annual Conference, is increasingly vital in the current healthcare environment, said Todd Nelson, FHFMA, director of partner relationships and chief partnership executive for HFMA. Collaboration among people in positions that haven’t traditionally worked together is becoming more essential all the time. 

“Anytime we can hear a presentation that helps us look at people on an individual basis and helps us to adjust our perspective and our lens to motivate them, to continue to listen to them, to find out what’s important — that, to me, is the key to developing the workforce,” Nelson said. “It’s thinking about what each of those people value and finding common ground.” 

3 things about Jason Dorsey

1. He has been investigating and presenting on generational dynamics for most of his adult life. He published his first book in 1997, at age 18, and was interviewed by Morley Safer for a segment about millennials on 60 Minutes in 2007.

2. His company, the Center for Generational Kinetics, uses research and data to highlight truths and filter out myths about generations, allowing leaders to more effectively lead all members of their teams.

3. He will have plenty to share in the closing keynote session at HFMA’s 2020 Annual Conference. “Particularly at the intersection of healthcare and finance, there are a lot of very specific things we’ve uncovered that really help leaders in this space, particularly around millennials and Gen Z and leading in a multigenerational workforce,” he said. “That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Note: The early-bird registration deadline for HFMA’s 2020 Annual Conference is March 5.




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