Generational Differences: Fact and Friction
From Time Magazine, to the Wall Street Journal, to USA Today, to The Economist, it seems everyone is talking about the conundrum that three generations in the workplace is creating. While the generalizations are many and certainly not always accurate, in working with hundreds of dental practices, there’s no denying that we are witnessing a clear shift in priorities and career philosophies as Gen Xers (born 1965-1980), and Millennials (born 1981-2000) take their places alongside Boomers (born 1946-1964). The question is, how do you manage the differences? It begins with taking some time to understand them and ends with solid management strategies, as well as the recognition that each generation brings its pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses to the dental office.
Boomers, as a rule, are widely seen as the workaholic generation. Work has always been the center of their lives. They have devoted themselves to their practices, often at the expense of their families. Boomer divorce rates are higher than any other generation. Conversely, Gen Xers commonly insist on flexibility to achieve work/life balance. Many are raising young children and want to be actively involved parents. They don’t have any interest in putting in the hours that Boomers do. And therein lies part of the challenge when a boomer practice owner brings on an associate Gen Xer. Consider this scenario between “Dr. Betty Boomer” and “Dr. Frank Flex.”
Dr. Betty has built her practice, patient by patient. She has worked early mornings, late evenings and Saturdays to accommodate the demanding schedules of her busy patient base. At 60, she’s ready to enjoy the fruits of her labors. Having worked hard while her children were young, she wants to spend more time with her grandchildren.
Dr. Frank, age 33 and the son of Dr. Betty’s friend, was brought on as an associate in her practice. The doctors shook hands on a 50/50 financial split. Dr. Betty believed this meant she could finally start scaling back. Dr. Frank believed this meant he could finally earn what he deserved and be available for his two young children. The arrangement went south in no time.
Dr. Frank blocked his schedule so that his days would not begin until 9 a.m. He explained that he needed to be home in the mornings to help get the kids ready and drop them off at school. During baseball season, he was out of the office by 4 p.m. and at the ball diamond for every T-ball game that his boys played. His dedication to his family was admirable, unless you were a patient who needed an early morning or late afternoon appointment. Some weeks, Dr. Frank’s family obligations only allowed him to put in about 20 hours at the office. But he reasoned that while there, he was highly productive, always looking for ways to improve processes and procedures, and seldom stopping to take a break. Thus, he reasoned, he more than earned his share of practice profits.
Gen Xers and Millennials are frequently said to have a strong sense of entitlement. And expectations such as Dr. Frank’s are not uncommon. It is a frequent point of contention with their Boomer bosses and colleagues who are more apt to think, “I paid my dues, it’s time for you to pay yours.”
After six months of this arrangement, Dr. Betty bulldozed Dr. Frank’s work/life fairytale, and pulled the plug on their 50/50 financial arrangement. His pay would be based on what he produced, and he was expected to log more hours in the office. Dr. Frank was furious. And Dr. Betty wasn’t much happier. After all, she had counted on this arrangement to work as much as he did.
It’s an unfortunate situation that could have been avoided had both sides expressed upfront their needs and expectations. Dr. Betty assumed that Dr. Frank would have the same work habits as she did at that stage in her career. Dr. Frank went into dentistry in part so that he could enjoy a certain lifestyle and have a life. That too is a common refrain heard again and again among both Gen Xers and Millennials. Bottom line, regardless of the generation, every practice must have solid management systems, job descriptions, measurements and clear expectations - especially when it comes to hiring, whether the position you’re filling is an associate dentist or part-time helper. Clear expectations must be set forth from the beginning.
Next week, managing Millennials - friends, phones, and feedback.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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