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Managing a multi-generational medical office staff

What’s with all the bickering in the office? People, people, can’t we all just get along?

Although you may never totally eliminate office conflict, managing with attention to generational differences can go a long way toward creating a more harmonious and more productive workplace.

By the numbers

Cut-off dates for generations differ, but Neil Howe and William Strauss, who pioneered generational research and have authored several books about generations and their differences, including “Generations” and “Millennials in the Workplace,” have established these parameters.

Generation Birth Years





Generation X








Your practice

It’s unlikely you have any members of the G.I. generation in your workplace, or members of the Homeland generation. However, your staff probably includes baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and perhaps even a member of the Silent generation.

This means you have at least three, possibly four generations, in your office.

Each generation brings a different set of experiences to the workplace, experiences related to the era in which they were born, raised, and came of age. When you consider the way the world has changed in the past 50 years, it’s easy to understand generational differences.

Nevertheless, a manager is tasked with leading this diverse team, and doing so requires maximizing the strengths of individual staff members while, at the same time, making sure everyone works together.

Characteristics of the generations

Boom boom. In most offices, the oldest staff members are baby boomers. They are hard-working, dedicated employees. As the generation that championed change in the world and the workplace, they have strong ideas about how things should be done.

They also have difficulty letting go. As Howe and Strauss point out, “As parents, they have developed very close individual relationships with their children, to the point of hovering.” Indeed, the term “helicopter parent” describes this tendency.

The same kind of behavior can be seen in their approach to their jobs. This generation does not easily relinquish control—or their jobs, for that matter. While previous generations retired by the time its members reached the age of the oldest baby boomers, this generation continues to work. The Great Recession is one factor, as is what Howe and Strauss refer to as “declining economic prosperity.” Nevertheless, as the economy has improved, baby boomers have begun to retire.

X marks the spot. Where baby boomers were concerned about changing the workplace, Generation X has reinvented it. “In jobs they prefer free agency over corporate loyalty, with three in five saying they someday ‘want to be my own boss,'” Howe and Strauss note.

Their entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of technology have resulted in some of today’s most successful companies. Meanwhile, those Gen Xers who work for others have changed what it means to be an employee.

Telecommuting, widespread use of staff development programs, and focus on work-life balance offerings have become commonplace largely because of this generation and its priorities.

Meet the millennials. The youngest generation in the workplace is also the largest generation in history. Much has been written about millennials and their generational traits, and a good deal of it has been negative. Yes, they were doted on as children and therefore expect ongoing support and recognition. But growing up in a nurturing environment has resulted in several positive generational traits. Millennials understand the importance of family and work-life balance. They also work well in teams.

At the same time, millennials tend to be risk-averse. Unlike Generation X, this is not a generation of free agents and entrepreneurs. millennials likewise value job security. They want to continue to work for you, but they want a career path and ongoing training and development.

Like Gen Xers, members of this generation are tech savvy. For many millennials, life has always included personal computers.

All together now

Understanding is the first step toward managing a multi-generational medical office staff. The next step is utilizing each generation’s strengths.

Here are a few examples.

Baby boomers. This generation has the most work and life experience, and it’s in the best interest of the practice to tap that experience. What’s more, boomers enjoy sharing their knowledge; it makes them feel valued and relevant. Look for opportunities where baby boomers can mentor younger staff members. Everyone will benefit, including the practice.

Similarly, ask for feedback from baby boomers in meetings. Again, it’s about taking advantage of their knowledge and experience, and showing them they are valued.

Gen X. This generation seeks entrepreneurial-like opportunities. Before you shrug this off and say, “well, our practice doesn’t offer that,” think how you might provide it. Do you have a project coming up that requires a leader? Perhaps you are considering implementing new software and you need to research and test products. Your tech-savvy, entrepreneurial-minded Gen Xer could be perfect for the task.

Members of this generation also value flexibility. Again, before you say, “not possible,” consider how you might accommodate Gen Xers, and other staff members.

Millennials. When it takes a team effort, members of this generation are ready for the task. They are accustomed to working in teams, and, for the most part, they know how to get along with others. Clearly define the objective, provide detailed steps and a timetable, and watch them succeed.

Remember, however, that millennials require support. Be sure to provide any necessary training, as well as encouragement and recognition.

So much in common

Generational traits, while common to each group, are by no means indicative of individual behaviors and priorities. Just as each generation has been shaped by experiences of a given era, each individual relies on his or her personal experiences for reference, behavior, and decision making.

There are also always exceptions to the rule. For example, your Gen X staff member may value structure above all else or your baby boom worker could turn out to be the most tech savvy member of the staff.

Nevertheless, managing with attention to generational characteristics has been shown to reduce office conflict and increase productivity—and that’s good news for all the generations at work.

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