This series of self-study lessons on Central Service topics was developed by the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM). The lessons are administered by Purdue University’s Continuing Education Division.
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There are four generations of employees working side-by-side in today’s healthcare industry. Central Service Managers should learn about these generations and their differences because they will continue to need employees, regardless of their age, to staff the many available positions which they supervise. The differing values, experiences, lifestyles, and attitudes of today’s employees about the future, their work expectations, and life in general can create significant misunderstandings and frustrations. Those managers and supervisors who most understand and appreciate each generation will be best able to motivate persons regardless of their ages, and then they will be better able to effectively facilitate the work of all of their staff members.1
As seen in Figure 1, these are four generations in today’s workforce.
The youngest traditionalists and those in the baby boomer generation occupy many senior healthcare and Central Service management positions, and many older Generation X employees also hold senior administrative ranks. Younger Generation X employees and some older Generation Y staff members are now moving into middle-management positions, and some older Generation Y employees are now assuming early management positions in healthcare organizations. Employees in all generations occupy non-management positions in Central Service, and tactics to manage these workforce generations are the topic of this lesson.
Central Service managers can make mistakes when they generalize about how to manage all persons of a given age group. However, there may be benefits to, when possible, modifying leadership styles to consider different age groups of individuals and the factors that motivate them. This tactic may be ideal, and it may be a useful and relatively easy-to-use tactic if most Central Service employees are members of a specific generation. However, it is more challenging when one supervises many employees of differing ages, and, therefore, many managers use the same leadership style when they supervise persons in all workforce generations.
Employees are likely to have different perceptions about work, its meaning, and their interest in it based upon their age and other factors. Supervisory training sessions can address these issues and, if possible, management-employee interactions can consider the potential impact of the employees’ generational differences.
Some Central Service managers have difficulty supervising employees in age groups other than their own. Doing so challenges their own beliefs and values and forces them to think about change and conflict. Effective supervision may also require them to modify their communication skills.
Figure 2 shows some basic information about the workforce generations that may affect the work attitudes, interests, and behaviors of those in each generation.
When reviewing the differences between the workforce generations, you’ll find that they become much more noticeable if you think about persons at the mid-point of each generation. For example, think about differences between Generation X and Y in terms of persons in their “middle 30’s” (Generation X) and others in their “early 20’s” (Generation Y). Don’t think about those who are 30 years old (the youngest in Generation X in 2008), and those who are 29 years old (the oldest in Generation Y in 2008).
Traditionalist employees who are still working will be retiring soon, but those that remain in the workforce are likely to be very experienced, know how to do their jobs, and are content with them. They may resist change (“We’ve always done things this way”), and they help to maintain the department processes and organizational culture that their younger peers wish to re-examine and “improve.” Many Central Service managers will likely identify with these staff members because they are closer in age to these employees than to the youngest in generation X and to their generation Y subordinates.
Baby boomers are also called the “me” generation. They are motivated by compensation, position titles, and recognition for their work. They believe that significant careers enhance their reputation, and their challenges to the “status quo” have yielded many of the opportunities now taken for granted in the workplace. Members of this workforce generation became the first “workaholics” out of the belief that hard work and loyalty is a good way to get ahead in one’s career. Many baby boomers sense that “who they are” is connected to their work and career achievements.
Generation X employees are motivated by job satisfaction. Many don’t anticipate remaining in one job or with one organization throughout their career. Instead, they plan to “jump jobs” to attain desired compensation and other benefits and, in the process, to receive increased opportunities for growth and personal fulfillment.
Generation Y employees want to provide meaningful input to their employers, and they have an interest in learning “how the company works” since this will influence their growth opportunities. Personal acknowledgement and job satisfaction are very important for this generation. These employees want to know the “why” of what they are being asked to do, and they want to know “what’s in it for them.” They enjoy a pleasant workplace, and money is not a motivator because they perceive that they have numerous employment opportunities. They are often opinionated, and are not likely to be responsive to a “do it or else” supervisory style.
Figure 2 above reviews numerous characteristics that create differences between members of today’s multi-generational workforce. Central Service managers will likely be able to identify several that suggest the employees’ level of commitment to the facility and the range of their employees’ perspectives about work ethics.
Increasingly, staff members in all age groups desire more flexible and/or fewer work hours out of concern for a greater balance between work and life off-of-the-job. For example, traditionalists may have health issues or want to enjoy their time with families and for hobbies and, as well, most are now ending their careers. Baby boomers are increasingly concerned about “free time” to pursue numerous interests including travel and to care for aging parents. Employees in generations X and Y have assumed numerous parental responsibilities and, often, their time is “worth more than money.”
Younger workers are generally viewed as ambitious in the traditional sense, but they have fewer concerns about career advancement if doing so affects their work/life balance. They often view loyalty for their employer as a “give and take” relationship based upon whether their employer “earns” it, and their loyalty is typically based upon their experiences with their employer.
Younger workers often want to be involved in decision-making. They may question authority, especially if they view the “chain of command” to be ineffective. While their older counterparts may exhibit loyalty and consistency, younger employees value flexibility, choices, and innovation. Effective managers attempt to develop processes that recognize the need for change and react quickly to it while, at the same time, they work to preserve the traditions and values which are integral to the facility’s mission.3
A simple definition of the term, “work ethic,” relates to the extent to which one perceives “doing a good job” to be a desired and positive moral value. There are often differences in perspectives about loyalty, time, and success between younger and older workers and, for these reasons, the older employees who frequently supervise younger staff members question the “work ethics” of their subordinates. Those with a self-centered work ethic are concerned about completing their work tasks in the best possible way (and which is most beneficial to the healthcare organization). They may, however, be less concerned about “what’s next,” and about how their work interrelates with that of co-workers. Supervisors can address this by emphasizing the “big picture” concerns and the team work that is required to most effectively serve healthcare customers.
Older managers also frequently question whether younger employees are concerned about the time required to “do the job.” Most Generation X and Generation Y employees are willing to commit the time necessary to do the work, but they want to do it in a way that better meets their work-life balance concerns. Tactics that involve addressing short time frames (not “five year plans”) and rewarding small successes can help to address the time-related concerns of younger workers.
Do younger workers have a respect for authority? The answer is typically “yes,” when it has been earned but, typically, not just when the facility’s organization chart “dictates” a chain of command. With the respect of younger workers comes loyalty to the manager. However, the reverse (dissatisfaction with their supervisor) is high-ranking reason why many younger staff members leave their positions.
Experienced Central Service managers know that there are diverse opinions about how people should be managed. Some say, “Everyone should be treated the same.” Others say it is important to, at least, consider generational differences, and still others suggest that employees should be treated as individuals.
One writer has suggested several tactics that generally work equally well for employees in every generation, in every organization, at any time:
While different generations may appreciate the use of different leadership strategies, the above represent “best practice” tactics that typically work well with all staff members.
Scott Davis, CMRP, CRCST, CHMMC
Susan Klacik, ACE, CHL, CRCST, FCS
Patti Koncur, CRCST, CHMMC, ACE
Natalie Lind, CRCST, CHL
David Narance, RN, CRCST
Carol Petro, CRCST, RN, BSN
Series Writer/ Editor: