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Communication Across Generations: How to Optimize Healthcare Employees

More than likely, you have multiple generations of people working at your practice or surgery center, and while the diversity is good, effectively communicating to each generation may be a problem.

"There are some employees out there who are really frustrated because they feel like the boss doesn't think they are doing well, but they don't know what the boss wants done," says Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Bright, USMC (Ret), a certified professional life coach and founder of On Target Leading. "Employees might think they are hitting the bull's eye every day by accomplishing their goals, but in the minds of the employer they haven't even hit the target. You have to have a crystal clear set of goals and missions — then you will hit the bull's eye every time."

Coach Bright discusses each different generation and the most effective methods of communication and interaction to optimize their success.

1. Greatest generation (born 1901-1925). Most members of this generation are retired, but they can still serve as a valuable asset to your team. Use members of this generation as mentors and glean the wisdom they've accumulated throughout the years. "They don't mind working for someone younger than them, but they expect an organized leader who doesn't use slang and is decisive," says Coach Bright. "They make great mentors and they love sharing their experiences."

Members of this generation often don't use electronics and prefer face-to-face communication. They are considered ladies and gentlemen, and should be treated respectfully as such. This means refraining from using slang or buzzwords and discussing the latest hip trends with them. Always meet and depart with a handshake for best results. "Members of the greatest generation came from the 'school of hard knocks,'" says Coach Bright. "They went through lots of hard times and they had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Respect them for their age, knowledge and experience while always remembering where they came from."

2. Silent generation (born 1926-1944). People sandwiched between the greatest generation and baby boomers can often be tagged into one group or another. Many are still in the workforce or might influence your office as a newly-retired expert. People in this age group often demand the same respect as the greatest generation, but they are more likely to have a better grip on new technology and are more adaptable to situations. These people are familiar with hard work and are less likely to challenge authority than their older or younger counterparts.

3. Baby boomers (born 1945-1962).
Baby boomers are the ones who are running the country today — they are the CEOs, administrators and legislators who are in the position to most influence our country. As employees, members of this generation value climbing the ladder of success and may overwork themselves to reach the top. However, they prefer when people listen to each other and make decisions through collaboration. "Instead of having a really hard, decisive leader to work for, baby boomers want a leader to agree with them," says Coach Bright. "They want to have leaders be open and show interest in what they say. Using the democratic approach to solving problems is important for them."

Like their parents, baby boomers also prefer personal interaction, even though they are able to use other methods of communication. They are often comfortable with technology and desire flexibility from their employers regarding their work schedule.

4. Generation X (born 1963-1980).
Generation Xers are becoming senior members of the workforce and they command independence. They are often self-reliant, resourceful and techno-savvy, which makes them well-equipped to take over for baby boomers in the future. "This generation was young enough during the technology boom that they could undergo additional education, and many of them did," says Coach Bright. "They are on board with social media and mature enough to handle leadership responsibilities on their own. Members of this generation are ready to take the helm and be in charge of some projects."

It's important not to micromanage generation Xers — instead, tell them what you want and let them go. These people are on a 24-hour clock with e-mail and smartphones, so being flexible with their time also helps to endear you to them. Enjoying life is important for people of this generation, so make sure you are able to allow them the leeway they demand.

5. Generation Y (born 1981-1994). These people will be your youngest office members, and they are often equipped with more knowledge and experience with technology than your senior administrators. "This is the only generation where on the first day of work, they have an upper hand on their boss with technology," says Coach Bright. "They don't know what to put in the document, but they can create it and send it anywhere. What most of them are beginning to realize is they have a long way to go in terms of content. This generation can accept information much more quickly than other generations and they are comfortable with a lot of information at once. They need more experience to make them into superstars."

Some employers may have trouble with employees from this generation because they have a sense of entitlement without the experience to back that up. However, their strengths can be an asset to the organization, so working with them on their terms is necessary.

Generally, members of this generation expect everyone around them to perform at their highest level constantly and dislike when leaders use sarcasm or treat them as "youngsters." Use technology to communicate with them and make sure the latest technology is available.

6. Linksters (born 1995 or after). This generation is still in school, but many may be seeking summer employment or full-time positions at your office in the near future. These people have always had technology at their fingertips and they learn best through interactivity. "The downside of all this technology is that it has hurt their personal communication," says Coach Bright. "Members of this generation often don't shake hands or speak publicly. They aren't always the most creative, either."

For the best results, speak clearly and be direct with assignments to this generation. They want to complete their tasks, but may not think far beyond the perimeters you set up for them.

8 steps for intergenerational communication


When multiple generations are all working together at once, it may be difficult to cater to each one individually. However, Coach Bright has an eight-step program that allows for dynamic communication between the generations. The eight steps include:

•    Emotional intelligence — the awareness of how your thoughts and feelings are delivered externally
•    Dynamic communication — communicating in a way other people can understand
•    Influencing and engaging others — ensuring everyone is happy and excited to engage in their jobs every day
•    Problem-solving — working through issues in a workshop environment
•    Productivity and decision-making — bridging any gaps that are costing the organization time and revenue
•    High-energy relationships — enthusiasm for completing tasks and interacting with others
•    Health and wellness — making sure employees are taking care of their health and have good presentation to patients
•    Time management and balance — delegating tasks so neither employees nor employers should feel overwhelmed

Learn more about On Target Leading.


More Coverage of Coach Bruce Bright:

A Leader of Leaders: Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Bright, USMC (Ret)

Your Path to Peak Performance (Part 1)
Your Path to Peak Performance (Part 2)



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