Home 2024 Sleep Dentistry Issue Breaking the Generational Code:  Intel Needed to Successfully Lead a Multi-Generational Workforce

Breaking the Generational Code:  Intel Needed to Successfully Lead a Multi-Generational Workforce

by Christi Bintliff

Have you looked at your practice recently? Not the Practice Management reports, KPIs, or the P&L, but the team. There is a good chance that you are looking at multi-generations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that for the first time in recorded history, there could be up to five generations in the workforce. (1)   To successfully lead in this unique situation, you will need to learn and understand the mindsets of the different generations. They have vastly different life experiences and perspectives. That doesn’t mean that you need five separate leadership styles but rather to hone your leadership and communication skills in a way that will resonate with each one.

If I am being honest with you, it wasn’t until I recognized that I had caused a disconnect in my team that I started focusing on the generational gap. I am a Gen Xer and therefore my leadership style came from that perspective. However, that only resonated with other Gen Xers. I had failed to reach the other generations that existed in my practice. I am not proud to admit it, but this failure provided me with a valuable lesson. It was the defining moment that sent me on a quest to learn more about the generations so that I could be the best leader to all.

Traditionalists, a.k.a. the Veterans or the Silent Generation: (born 1925–1945)

Traditionalists reflect sensibility, reliability, practicality, responsibility, and stability. Wow, that’s intense. This generation was one of rules and policies. It was defined by office hours, face-to-face meetings, and financial and work obligations.

Their loyalty can be seen in their dedication to one employer throughout their career span. Something unheard of today. Career was the primary focus and family came as a distant second. They were conditioned to work in a totalitarian workplace and taught to never question their leader. In the workplace, they respect seniority and rules reflective of their era.

The Traditionalist generation spawned the first true innovators. They developed NASA. They also created vaccines for many diseases including polio, tuberculosis, tetanus, and whooping cough, laying the foundation for today’s technological environment. They were also the first to pursue equality and abolish discrimination through the Civil Rights Movement. (2) It is estimated that only 2% remain in the workforce. (3)  They respond best to one-on-one conversations in person and over the phone or through handwritten memos. They have been forced to adapt to technology though it is completely out of their comfort zone.

Baby Boomers: (born 1946–1964)

Baby Boomers have a strong work ethic, are disciplined, and are career driven. They value teamwork, and collaboration, as well as an ardent desire to be recognized for their contributions. They value loyalty, which is reflected in their long-term employment history. They excel in an environment that provides opportunities for personal and professional growth and one that acknowledges their contributions. (4) Baby Boomers carry the same mentality as the Traditionalists in that career comes first. Their work isn’t just a paycheck – it’s their life’s purpose and passion.

This generation has embraced digital technology and accepted that this is very much a part of the future. (5) They prefer a bottom-line no-nonsense direct approach to communication in the form of one-to-one conversation, phone call, or email. Boomers are gearing up for retirement, but some are opting to continue working. Employers can best use their skills and knowledge in mentoring programs.

Generation X: (born 1965–1980)

The characteristics that best describe this generation are independence, adaptability, self-reliance, and problem-solving.

They excel in an environment where they can work independently and one that offers greater autonomy. Some can find it difficult to collaborate with other team members unless they spearhead the conversation. They play a significant role in leadership by taking on heavier workloads and responsibilities. Their employment history is often reflective of their long-term commitment. Though they often reach a career plateau, they continue to seek ways to reinvent themselves and level up their knowledge and experience.

They expect fair pay and an opportunity to earn extra money. (4) They prefer straightforward, concise communication. Whilst they aren’t digital fluid in the way Generation Z is, they’re much more tech-savvy than baby boomers who started their working lives in a more analog world. (6)

They recognize that digital technology is here to stay. However, they are not as attached to or reliant on it. They still kick it old school using the traditional methods of learning and gaining experience through the direct approach. Gen Xers tend to communicate well with both older and younger generations and often function as a conduit between the two. (6) Employers can support them by providing immediate feedback, attention to work-life balance, as well as providing mentorship and professional development.

Did I mention that I am a Gen Xer?

Millennials, a.k.a. Generation Y: (born 1981–2000)

This generation represents 35% of the total US labor force. By 2025, millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce. (7)

They are purpose-driven, confident, tech-savvy, and will switch jobs if their work-life balance suffers. They value leaders who will inspire and mentor them, teamwork, challenges, and flexibility. (4)

The most common forms of communication for this generation are instant messaging, texting, and email. They want their employers to get to know them personally and provide them with immediate feedback. They like fun upbeat environments that offer flexibility, set clear expectations, acknowledge work-life balance, and focus on mental health and wellness. Millennials tend to favor training that will level up their experience and knowledge that will set them up for promotions or other employment opportunities. They want to succeed. Once hired, they will go beyond the orientation and onboarding process by taking self-study finding additional training on Google, YouTube, and other online training modules.  By doing so, they gain faster and learn about their role and their industry at a much quicker pace. It’s also important to listen to their ideas and opinions. Workplace culture along with a meaningful and purposeful career plays a key role in their intent to stay with an employer.

I read an alarming fact derived from the 2021 Deloitte Millennial Survey stating that 43% of Millennials expect to change jobs within 2 years, and only 28% plan to stay more than 5 years. (9)  Employers should pay close attention to these stats and develop a plan to navigate a constant stream of turnover.

Generation Z: (born 2001–2020)

Employers often label this generation as lazy and unreliable. In total honesty, I had mislabeled them before I had a better understanding of Gen Z.  Here is what I discovered by research and by talking with some in my practice.  Gen Z is purpose-driven, independent, and self-aware, and values personalization, individuality, creativity, diversity, and inclusion. Gen Zer’s value job stability and individual recognition. They’re also educated and will not hesitate to leave an employer that does not align with their core values. (4) They typically have a side hustle because financial stability is important in this generation having watched their family struggle to make ends meet. Employers should have an open conversation addressing any concerns or support relating to their side hustle.

To engage with Gen Z, it is critical to invest time and resources important to them: clear career paths, alignment to personal values, and creating a sense of community in the workplace. They grew up in the era of social media. They tend to communicate by way of FaceTime, instant messaging, texting, and other communication apps. This can also mean that they lack refinement in their soft skills.

The workplace culture plays a key role in their intent to stay with an employer. Their employer’s positions on trending social issues will also play a key role in whether they stay. They want to learn and excel, but they need their employer to train and engage them by providing not only hands-on training but also virtual training and online courses. We must remember that they have been reliant on technology far more than the other generations.  We must meet them where they are and help them adapt and be better equipped to communicate and thrive in our multigenerational practices. 

Two billion Gen Zer’s are coming of age. In 2024, this generation is set to officially surpass the number of Baby Boomers in the workforce. They’re expected to make up 30% of the workforce by 2030. There is no time like the present for employers to prepare for their arrival. (10) Out of all the generations, millennials and Gen Z are least likely to stay at their jobs. Even at great workplaces, only 81% of millennials and 77% of Gen Z say they intend to work at their jobs for a long time, compared with 90% of baby boomers. (11) 

Leaders today must have situational awareness of the generations in their practice. They must be willing to adjust their communication styles to deliver the same message but in a different format and tone that will resonate with each generation.

By modifying and customizing your approach to recruitment, onboarding, and engagement for multiple generations you will be best equipped to attract top talent for a well-rounded team.

As a leader and coach, I focus on creating team-building retreats and exercises that embrace generational diversity and tap into the unique strengths and perspectives of each generation leading to increased employee satisfaction, productivity, and practice success.

Cited information:

  1. https://www.betterup.com/blog/generations-in-the-workplace
  2. https://www.karenmccullough.com/traditionalist-generation-still-killin/
  3. https://www.accusourcehr.com/blog/evolving-generational-values-in-workforce-benefit-plans
  4. https://www.officernd.com/blog/generational-differences-in-the-workplace/#:~:text=Work%2DLife%20Balance%3A%20Millennials%20and,and%20adhere%20to%20hierarchical%20structures
  5.  https://www.iofficecorp.com/blog/improve-communication-workplace
  6. https://www.globacare.co.uk/guides/gen-x-in-the-workplace
  7. https://teamstage.io/millennials-in-the-workplace-statistics/#:~:text=This%20generation%20represents%2035%25%20of,75%25%20of%20the%20global%20workforce
  8. https://teamstage.io/millennials-in-the-workplace-statistics
  9. https://www.onsiteinstaller.com/online_exclusives/2024/03/dynamics-shift-as-more-of-gen-z-enters-the-workforce
  10. https://www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/top-5-things-millennials-want-in-the-workplace-in-2022

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