How millennials are changing the vet practice

Find out 6 things that make millennials so different

As I talk to veterinary practices about how they engage with their clients or team members, I have heard a great deal of talk about the millennials. Who are they, anyway? 

Demographers usually refer to millennials as those born between 1982 and 2004.  The name derived from the new millennium starting at the end of 1999 and beginning in the year 2000.

Over time, we have seen generations that shared “defining moments” that resulted in some common characteristics.  The following is a chronology of four such groups:

  1. Veterans, born before 1945
  2. Boomers, born between 1946 and 1961
  3. Generation Xers, born between 1962 and 1981
  4. Millennials, born between 1982 and 2004

While it is never fair to paint any group of people with a broad brush, it is true that different periods give rise to people with, in general, different characteristics.

We are aware how our veterans changed the workplace during World War II. Rosy, the Riveter represented the women who entered the workforce while the men went off to war.  We also saw a hunger for education, when veterans returned after the war.

The Boomers represented the surge of births after the war, when parents looked forward to a more secure future. This generation became the hippies and dreamers. Aware of the atrocity of war, some opposed war and fought for social changes related to race, women’s roles and the “war on poverty.”  We recognize them also for their musical legacy — notably rock and roll.

Then came the Generation Xers, many of whom were “latch-key” children, when both parents went to work. They lived through the Watergate Scandal, the Three-mile Island nuclear episode and the disaster in Chernobyl, which may explain the cynicism this group expresses toward institutions, whether they are religious, political or corporate.

And what of the millennials? Practice leaders I have met find that it is important to understand the millennials and their differences if they hope to call them clients and team members.

What are Millennials Like?

Take a look at these six characteristics and see if they help you understand those clients and colleagues you know who are under the age of 34.

  1. First of all, they are tech savvy, surrounded by a plethora of electronic gadgets.  You’ve probably seen the TV commercial in which grandparents hand over their computer accessories and ask for help. They expect the grandkids to teach them with a logic that goes like this: “First, we push this button. Let’s label it and write down the directions.  Step two, we click on this. Let’s pause and review step one and two before we going to step 3.” But, instead of this method of teaching, millennials are likely to say nothing and just go “click, click, click, done,” expecting their grandparents to follow.
  2. Some say they are more tolerant, having grown up in an environment with greater diversity.  The notion that some people are gay, lesbian or transgender is not frightening to them.  They are more likely than their elders to also have had positive associations with people of various ethnic and religious traditions.
  3. Technology and travel have shrunken our planet and members of this generation are often more globally aware. Instant news from around the world makes everyone more informed.  How people in this group respond may not be the same, but they all have access to worldwide information.
  4. Some say millennials have greater social responsibility. Having experienced a major recession, they are often eager to help those in need.  They have also seen the impact of extreme weather events and know about climate change and how their behavior can impact the environment.
  5. Another result of having lived through the major recession is the simple fact that many millennials are short of cash — the very cash they need to tend to their pets.
  6. Do you work with millennials who seem to feel more entitled — entitled to a well-paying job, entitled to be heard and respected by their elders? This generation expects good things to come to them right away.
  7. Millennials consider a job as a means to a life.  Their elders may have considered their job to be their life. This group values evenings, weekends, and vacations and wants to protect time for their personal endeavors — be it family life or hobbies.
  8. Some of that personal time is spent in the gym.  This is a group that is committed to good health. They want time to participate in sports or exercise, and they value healthy food.

How Do These Characteristics Affect Your Practice?

Whether as members of your staff or as clients, their expectation is that everything will be “online,” quickly and easily accessible with technology.  The advantage to you is that these younger employees will be competent in establishing and maintaining your website or social media presence.  They will be able to quickly adapt to electronic medical records or the use of media to educate and inform. As clients, they can make appointments and approve a treatment plan quickly, electronically.

The team interaction in your practice may be different as you add team members with varying diversity.  Look to your millennials to demonstrate greater tolerance, respect, and appreciation of differences.

Scheduling work may change as you add millennials to your practice. That was the experience of Frankie Williams, formerly a hospital director and now owner of Williams Consulting & Coaching Group.  She told me that she found that millennials are committed to family and fitness activities and don’t want their work to interfere.  She said that they are good workers but want to know their work schedule in advance, so they can plan social activities with their friends.  “They want a life,” she said.  “In fact, working with millennials has taught me about living.”

As the milliennials increase in the profession they are likely to change the profession! Be ready for the changes.


Carolyn C. Shadle, Ph.D., is the co-owner of ICS Workplace Communication (www.veterinariancommunication.com ). Shadle was awarded her Ph.D. by the State University of New York at Buffalo in interpersonal and organizational communication and has trained managers and team members in businesses as diverse as General Mills and Oracle’s Sun Microsystems. She is a certified Myers-Briggs assessor and trained with Gordon Training International. Find her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest.

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