Working Through the Generation Gap

“I think we saw medicine as a career and a calling and an identity, and the younger generation sees it as a job.” — Comment from a physician in a TMA member survey

“Work-life balance is looked down upon by the older generation.” — Comment from another physician in the same survey

Generation gap? Certainly the millennial generation — roughly defined as those born from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s — has a different way of thinking about work than older age groups. This is true not only of millennial physicians but also their contemporaries in other forms of health care and other fields.

But, many observers point out, the differences aren’t as black and white as the two quotations above would indicate. The nuances are important to understand if you are looking to hire millennials for your office or to work with them on your health care team.

For starters, “when Millennials say they want ‘balance,’ they don’t mean work less. They mean work differently and more flexibly. There’s a big difference,” writes Cali Williams Yost in Fast Company, who suggests “work-life fit” and “flexibility” more aptly describe millennial values than “balance.” “My experience is that most Millennials are willing to work very hard when required; however, they might want to work from home or come into the office earlier or later than traditional hours,” she says.

The new workforce values experiences more than generations before, so work may be less about “getting ahead” and more about finding meaning and seeking work that aligns with personal beliefs and goals. Not unlike the older physician quoted above from the survey, millennials work to find fulfillment and meaning, but they also seek out organizations that nurture genuinely fulfilling cultures, says the Chicago Tribune in “Stop calling it ‘work-life’ balance.”

“And if yours isn’t one of those cultures, they’ll just leave for an organization that is,” says Tribune writer Ben Peterson.

Today’s younger workers do demand limits to the amount of time they work, he says; being overworked is hardly fulfilling. But “this isn’t to say employers can’t push their people, and hard. In fact, employees of today want to be pushed and motivated to accomplish exceptional things,” he writes. Millennials “would much rather help solve the problem than be told the solution,” Dea Robinson of the Medical Group Management Association told Medical Economics.

Younger physicians, for example, may be willing to give up the autonomy of private practice for employment and a less rigorous schedule, but that doesn’t mean they are any less motivated to serve patients and the medical profession. The same could hold true for other workers, too.

Having grown up with technology and constant access to information, “millennials often are less reluctant to ask awkward questions than were their predecessors,” says Medical Economics. An “overarching characteristic of millennials is a willingness to question authority and established procedures.”

A key to working with millennials is creating an atmosphere of inclusiveness, through transparency, ongoing dialogue, and explaining why you are doing something, the magazine says.

Other tips for employing or teaming up with this generation of workers:

  • Ask for their opinions and perspectives,
  • Give frequent, informal feedback,
  • Encourage them to try out their ideas,
  • Recognize that working collaboratively fulfills a social need for this “connected” generation,
  • Acknowledge their contributions to the overall endeavor, and
  • Establish a work culture that values each person’s well-being.

See also TMA’s course, Physician Collaboration and Communication, from the TMA Physician Health and Wellness Committee, to learn more about today’s working environment. You can view course materials at no cost; for a low fee, you can earn ethics credit by completing the accompanying test and evaluation. And, visit the new TMA Career Center if you are looking to recruit physicians or practice staff.

Published Sept. 28, 2017

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Last Updated On

September 29, 2017

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