Bridging generation gaps in the workplace is never easy. But like it or not, practice owners and managers are tasked with adapting to the style and needs of the new generation of veterinarians and support staff.
One of the most prevalent attributes of the latest generations entering the workforce—and the one causing great lament among supervisors who were brought up under a different regime—is the expectation of continual praise and encouragement.
Many young people entering the workforce today count themselves among what the mainstream media has dubbed the “over-praised” Me Generation. They also include the Millennial generation and Generation Y.
“Today’s employees require more hand-holding and recognition,” says Alyce D’Amato, CVT, CVPM, vice president and executive director of Horizon Veterinary Services Inc. in Appleton, Wis.
“Unfortunately, they want to be rewarded for simply being at work and fulfilling their job duties. I see fewer employees who understand what it means to go above and beyond. We certainly have young employees who work very hard—they are just difficult to find. Today’s young employees seem to think that working between 38 and 42 hours in a week is extreme.”
Such attitudes may have significant implications for employee-boss communication.
“Employees need to talk more about their concerns,” D’Amato says. “They often request one-on-one meetings where they will express worries regarding a co-worker or a particular incident. They have a strong need to be heard and to help improve a particular situation or relationship. Some are willing to participate, but most would prefer to be anonymous and not get involved other than bringing the issue to management’s attention.”
Although established veterinarians and practice owners may be reluctant to coddle younger employees, not all differences can be attributed to generational factors.
Some might simply be due to differences in life-stages, says Suzanne Martin, RVT, a management consultant with Dynamic Veterinary Concepts LLC.
“There are some obvious differences between younger people now and younger people 20 years ago based on exposure to technology alone,” she notes.
Martin says that younger generations’ familiarity with new technology brings many benefits to the workforce.
“They are more accustomed to having access to information, are good at problem solving and expect to be challenged, and are good at adapting to new tools and technology,” she says. “They also expect entertainment and rewards.”
Roger Cummings, CVPM, a practice management consultant in Texas, notes that every generation presents challenges as it enters the workforce.
“Today’s generation has grown up questioning authority, having instant access to information and being continually stimulated by technology,” he says. “Younger workers need to know the reasoning behind what they are asked to do.”
And just as every generation presents new challenges, they also require new methods of interaction.
“Businesses and managers are adjusting by realizing few younger employees will remain with their employer over several years, changing their training systems, and learning that full-disclosure, discourse and group decision-making that includes everyone help retain workers and increase their productivity,” Cummings says.
Practice owners and managers looking to retain promising young employees are challenged to go beyond providing competitive salaries and benefits.
“I often hear owners and managers frustrated because their younger employees do not have the same appreciation for benefits such as health insurance, retirement or profit-sharing plans as their more-mature employees have,” Cummings says. “Benefits are very expensive for small businesses today and add considerably to the cost of each employee.”
“Therefore, veterinary practices should be very concerned about retaining their best employees and implementing business and management practices that attract new talent with the right qualities to match practice goals,” she says.
“In addition, tracking their own practice turnover rate is crucial for identifying negative trends early on, and for monitoring the success of implementing new performance management, benefits or reward systems,” Martin adds.
Because veterinary medicine is a service-oriented industry, it’s important to attract and hire employees who have a natural propensity for delivering excellent service, says Robin Brogdon, MA, president of BluePrints Veterinary Marketing Group Inc. in Huntington Beach, Calif.
“Much of the industry-specific skills can be taught—attitude cannot,” Brogdon says. “Hiring the right personnel is even more important for a practice to be a key player in their respective market, as service is often the only real differentiator that a veterinary practice can demonstrate with consistency.”
Brogdon says the same service-oriented principles should be expected from all levels of staff, from receptionists to veterinarians. “All levels of staff deal with service in some capacity,” she says. “It should be especially so for associate veterinarians because they deal with service of the patient, client and team members, all while trying to generate adequate revenues and deliver quality care.”
Brogdon says that employees who have a service-oriented attitude and a desire to continually develop their communication skills will be most successful working in a veterinary clinic.
“Unfortunately, with the shortage of veterinarians, many practices are not adhering to this hiring method and make exceptions to the need for social skills just to bring on another DVM,” she says.
Beyond salary and benefits, today’s younger employees place increased value on the flexibility and manageability of their work schedules.
“For those practices that are 24/7, or have extended hours, the new generation of staff are increasingly motivated by flexibility and the ability to modify their working hours to suit the other aspects of their life,” says Robin Brogdon, MA, president of BluePrints Veterinary Marketing Group Inc. in Huntington Beach, Calif.
“It’s all about balance for them, and pursuing their dreams,” Brogdon says.
“So the best way to accommodate this drive for control in their lives is to think outside the box when it comes to scheduling. Obviously the needs of the business and patients should be paramount when considering scheduling, but the old adage of Monday through Friday, 9–5, need not apply.”
D’Amato agrees that employees have become increasingly less willing to work undesirable schedules.
“I manage 24-hour practices. Employees used to work every weekend and most holidays,” D’Amato says. “Now it’s very hard to find employees willing to work those shifts. Even finding employees to work every other weekend is a challenge. We’ve adjusted our schedules so that employees only work every other weekend and typically they work three- to four-day work weeks.”
Even established practice owners and managers prepared to accommodate schedules may find themselves at a loss when striving to communicate with Millennials.
“The current generation of employees seems to have a need to have every last detail explained to them and defined in writing,” D’Amato adds. “Although it’s good practice management to have job descriptions and protocols in place, it seems as though today’s employees can’t make a move unless each step of the process they are about to begin is written down and clearly defined for them.
“It is my opinion that they lack initiative, creativity and the ability to think on their feet,” she adds.
“My theory is that they have had so much information readily available through the Internet, that when faced with a situation in which they need to wing it, they have great difficulty moving forward.”
To combat this issue, D’Amato says employees need to have access to veterinary-related information and education via the Internet.
“I would also recommend some form of group communication via a website or group e-mail,” she says. “This generation is used to communicating through computers, so having a site where they can view practice information and communicate with each other works very well.”
In addition, Cummings says those supervising younger employees have to adjust their attitudes to accept the value systems of the younger generation.
He says keys to making this connection include:
• Explaining the "why" in ways that younger employees will believe and understand
• Being proactive wtih technology and communication.
• Challenging young employees to continually learn and become proficient with increasingly difficult tasks.
Martin notes that today’s young veterinarians and staff members want to know how they and the business are doing and where they are going.
“Talk openly and regularly with team members, and have discussions about what they like to do and what they are good at, and match them with the jobs and assignments that fit them best,” Martin suggests.
“Clearly state expectations, give regular constructive feedback and provide opportunities for challenges and development.”
Beyond their desire for enhanced communication in their workplaces, today’s young employees often desire a sense of control and involvement in their veterinary practices.
“They want input, and they want to be heard,” Brogdon says. “They want to know their ideas matter, that they count and that they are part of the decision-making. Practices would do best to allow them some empowerment and authority, whether it’s over committees within the hospital, special projects or some other area—keep them engaged.”
This is the best way to keep them motivated and connected to the practice, Brogdon adds.
“They’ll then deliver better service because they feel the vision for the practice includes them.”
“Most young employees want more information and prefer to be involved in decision-making for the business they work in—and this is true for both support staff and associate veterinarians,” she says.
“Also, for young associate veterinarians, it is important that they have access to tools such as e-mail and online message boards, like the Veterinary Information Network, to enable them to collaborate with colleagues,” Martin adds.
“Collaboration within the practice on patient care is important, but technology now enables collaboration on a much larger scale, providing the opportunity for more robust solutions. As telemedicine emerges, this is another tool that may become standard practice for young veterinarians.”
Brogdon notes that it can seem extraordinarily time- and cost-consuming to a business to devote so much energy toward an employee’s experience at work.
“But the benefits truly are monetized by higher revenues and higher staff-retention rates,” she says. “This translates into lower cost of acquiring new staff, lower cost of attracting new clients and a more united team that has a common understanding of the core vision of the practice and the optimum means to get there.”