How four generations of physicians can work together

November 8, 2019

Having four generations of physicians working in the same practice is both a blessing and a significant source of complications, said Haydn Shaw, CSP, at the LUGPA annual meeting in Chicago.

Having four generations of physicians working in the same practice is both a blessing and a significant source of complications, said Haydn Shaw, CSP, at the LUGPA annual meeting in Chicago.

Shaw, the author of “Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart,” used his to talk discuss three key components of the topic-four generations interacting in an office, how to recruit and keep clinicians happy, and how to hand off a practice.

This is the first time there have been four generations in the workplace, he explained, and it’s soon to be five-although there are already five generations of patients today as life expectancy has increased 30 years since 1900.

“It’s one of the great blessings of modern medicine and science,” he said. “It also makes life a lot more complicated because through most of the centuries, there were only three generations of people and a clear hierarchy. But now that we’ve got five generations in a workplace, there are a lot of opinions from different generations, and there are traditionalist practitioners who are still effective in their 70s. But if the older generations expect the younger staff to wait their turn to push for their preferences, they will be surprised.”

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He explained while the process has always been to “wait your turn,” today’s graduates don’t want to pay their dues for 20 years and are looking to be heard from the get-go. It’s not that the younger generations want to be running the place in a year; the research doesn’t support that, Shaw said.

“As a matter of fact, both generations believe that traditionalists and boomers know more than anyone else in the workplace, so both Gen X members and millennials have a lot of confidence in the work experience of older generations. What they don’t want to be told is ‘wait your turn’ and that they will be at the card table instead of the big table for another 15 years.”

While younger generations don’t expect to make the decisions, they do want to observe and occasionally be asked their opinions.

 

Boredom equals turnover

Another critical factor when it comes to creating a happy work force with multiple generations relates to retention and boredom. As millennials get older, Shaw explained, they’re better able to deal with boredom, but younger millennials don’t have a lot of tolerance for boredom. A Gen Z member may take a job with more boredom if it provides security over a job that’s their passion.

“Gen Z watched people have to work really hard just to get what boomers got the week they graduated from college,” he said. “They’re a little more serious about things, but boredom is still a major threat.”

So, when they get to work and the boredom factor is not taken into account, turnover may ensue and retention could be problematic.

Next: Emerging adulthoodEmerging adulthood

A third piece Shaw addressed was the importance of emerging adulthood and how older generations who don’t understand this concept will blame a lot of things on millennials.

Emerging adulthood, he explained, is the life stage between adolescence and early adulthood that has been expanding over the last 40 years as people postpone marriage, having kids, and finishing an education. But all that can get pushed back due to demands of a career, and many physicians have been pushing it back for decades.

An example occurs in the nursing field.

“One of the common complaints is that older nurses say that younger nurses are not as dedicated to patients,” Shaw said. “Often, it’s because they don’t want to take the worst shifts or they want a long weekend. They may want Columbus Day off because a bunch of their friends are going away for the weekend but are told they’ve only been there 9 months and need seniority for that. The problem is the oldest nurse has been there 23 years and they will never get seniority for that.”

When baby boomers entered the work force, a 24-year-old nurse was often married (maybe with a child already) or knew who they were spending the rest of their life with, so they didn’t need to go off with friends for a long weekend to find someone.

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“So, when older nurses say younger nurses don’t care as much about outcomes or about patients, what they’re often saying is younger nurses don’t care about patients enough to work shifts that make it hard to find love. It’s a choice previous generations with a short emerging adulthood life stage didn’t have to make and don’t realize younger nurses do unless the old rules change,” Shaw said. “And when you explain it that way, a whole lot of nursing managers better understand and say that makes a lot of sense.”

Shaw warned Gen Xers in a physician practice to brace themselves for what he had to say.

“One of the things I hear quite a bit of from people who own their practices is, ‘While I admire and appreciate the professionalism or the education of my Gen X staff, it just seems like a lot of Gen Xers care more about how much money they make and how much time off they get than they do about patients,’ ” he said. “There is growing research that older millennials are willing to put in the most hours of any generation.”

He noted work-life balance has always been valued more by younger than older generations. One physician said he couldn’t sell his practice in good conscience because none of the younger generations cared about patients as he did.

Physicians need to raise their generational IQ, Shaw concluded, so they can work better together in the office, quit blaming a generation for challenges, and start making the adjustments that transition them into the future.