Editor’s note: This text-based course is a transcript of the webinar, Gen What? An Audiologist's Guide to Generational Differences, presented by Yell Inverso, AuD, PhD.
After this course, learners will be able to:
- Define Millennial, Baby Boomer, Gen X, etc., and what the broad characteristics are based on research.
- Explain how generational characteristics can help or hinder workplace relationships as well as patient relationships within the field of audiology.
- List ways in which the field of audiology might need to change to accommodate the shift in generational culture.
For today's presentation, we're not simply going to discuss, "What is a Millennial? What is a Baby Boomer? What is a Gen-Xer?" My goal is to dig into what the research has to say. We hear a lot of cultural pundits about traits of Millennials or Baby Boomers. As a researcher, I wanted to find actual data that would dig deeper into these generational differences and how these differences could potentially impact the workplace, specifically within the field of audiology. We will also discuss changes and adaptations that we may need to make when there are multiple generations of people working together at the same time.
I want to point out that while researching this topic, I pulled together information that I felt was the most consistent across all sources. For example, I reviewed different articles that had varying date ranges for certain generations. Be aware that this is not an exact science. I did my best to examine the research and share with you the most widely accepted data about each generation. Furthermore, many of these ideas came from qualitative research that was conducted through interviews. It is important to distinguish whether the studies selected one point in time and interviewed different people of different ages, or if they were longitudinal, interviewing the same people at different points in time and looking at each generation as they aged.
What is a Generation?
In general, the most basic definition of a generation is all of the people that were born and are living at about the same time, regarded collectively. It can also be described as the average period, generally considered to be about 30 years, during which children are born and grow up, become adults and begin to have children of their own (Wikipedia). As you will see, there have been generations shaped by shared experiences and life-altering events (e.g., World War II). When those events change, a new generation can be born. The duration isn't necessarily 30 years.
Who defines a generation? Interestingly, it is not the US Census Bureau. The Census Bureau only recognizes one generation: Baby Boomers. They state that Baby Boomers are individuals born between 1946 and 1964. When it comes to the US Census Bureau, they don't acknowledge any of the other generations. Many would argue that the media have defined these generational differences, as asserted in a 2014 article published by The Wire. There's also recent literature from the Pew Research Center, which defines where the Millennial generation ends because that is a point of contention.
Today, the generations we're going to examine are:
- Baby Boomers
For each group, we will look at the birth range, as well as other names that each generation is also known as. We will address critical influencers of each generation and look at examples of the generation's core values. Also, we will outline the key attributes of each generation and their differing views of time in the workplace.
Born between 1900 and 1945, Traditionalists are also referred to as the Silent Generation, the Forgotten Generation, and the Greatest Generation. Events that defined and shaped this generation include World War II, the Korean War, the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Rise of Corporations.
According to the research, one of the core values of Traditionalists is conformity. Furthermore, this population values law and order, and they have high respect for authority. This group is also very patriotic, and they generally put duty before pleasure.
One key personality attribute of Traditionalists is that they are hardworking and loyal to an employer, staying at one company for an extended period. Also, they tend to hold conservative values, are fiscally prudent, thrifty, and task-oriented.
With regard to their view of the workplace, many of the jobs held by Traditionalists involved "punching the clock." They worked hard while at work, but they didn't bring their job home with them, because it tended to be work that needed to be done in an office or factory, etc.
Members of the Baby Boomer generation were born between 1946 and 1964. This group is also referred to as the Moral Authority, and sometimes as Flower Children. These individuals were heavily influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the Sexual Revolution, and the Cold War with Russia.
Baby Boomers tend to believe that anything is possible. Additional traits include being very independent, self-assured, disciplined, and team-oriented. In addition to being loyal, they value work before life, and they are often good in a crisis.
Their view of the workplace can be described as "workaholic." According to the research, visibility at work is essential to Baby Boomers. They want people to recognize that they are physically in the workplace.
Members of Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980. They are also commonly known as Gen-X or the Post-Boomers.
Key influencers of Gen-X include Watergate and the Energy Crisis. Also, this is the first generation where dual-income families and single parents were becoming more of the norm. These are your "latchkey" kids. Speaking for myself, starting by the age of seven, I wore a key around my neck. I went home after school by myself. I let myself into the house. I made myself a snack. I turned on the television. I did my homework. Y2K was a big fear and influence. Downsizing in the corporate world impacted this group, and the end of the Cold War for the earlier part of the generation. Between 1965 to 1980, a lot changed in those 15 years. You will find Gen-Xers born in the second part that weren't necessarily directly impacted by the end of the Cold War, but our parents were, in a meaningful way, based on the time that we were born.
One core value of Gen-X is that they value diversity. This tends to be a very entrepreneurial "do-it-myself" generation, and they place great value on higher education. They tend to be viewed as cynical and skeptical, but also practical and pragmatic.
Attributes of Gen-X include adaptability, along with a little bit of an anti-establishment mentality, which ties into their entrepreneurial spirit. These individuals crave independence, they are results-focused, and they work to live. They want the focus to be not on the number of hours they work, but to be judged based on the quality of their work product.
Gen-Xers are project-oriented, and they get paid to get the job done. This generation started the shift from the "thank you so much for my paycheck" mentality to "pay me what I'm worth; pay me what I'm owed."
Through all of my research on this topic, this is the generation that people have the most opinions about, many of them negative. I work with Millennials, who don't believe that they possess the traits of this generation. I always try to help them understand that these are generalizations. If you were born between 1981 to 2004, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are narcissistic, for example. There's nothing that says you have to fit your generation perfectly. I feel like Millennial has become a word that Millennials themselves view as an insult. I don't want it to be that way, and I certainly don't feel that way.
This generation is also known as Generation Me, Generation-Next, and Gen-Y. Millennials grew up with and have been shaped by the internet and digital media. All they have ever known is immediate gratification and the ability to obtain instant answers to their questions. Another key influencer for this generation is 9/11, along with school shootings becoming a regular occurrence. Divorce and single parenthood are more of a norm with Millennials than it was before Gen-X.
One core value of Millennials is consumerism. If they want something, they can order it online and have it at their fingertips in a short period. Coming up later in the presentation, we're going to discuss the importance of consumerism and how much we have to value it now within the field of audiology. The qualitative research also shows that civic duty is important to Millennials.
For Gen-X, we mentioned that a core value is diversity, whereas Millennials value inclusion. There is a difference between diversity and inclusion. Diversity refers to the similarities and differences between individuals (e.g., personality traits, identity, race, sex, and age). Inclusion, however, refers to the efforts used to embrace those differences. In other words, a diverse workplace is one in which a variety of people from numerous different backgrounds work. An inclusive workplace is one in which various policies and behaviors recognize and celebrate those differences, with everyone having the same access to opportunities.
Millennials are competitive as a result of being raised by Gen-X parents. The literature shows that Millennials have had a schedule since they were born. The parents focus on their children's activities, even above and beyond their activities. This lends itself to competition, especially as it relates to getting into the best schools, as parents are starting to think about colleges when their children are in elementary school. In earlier generations, that did not occur. This also manifests in Millennials as having the ability to multi-task.
The Millennial generation is accustomed to technology and getting access to information immediately. As an example, college students have stopped buying physical textbooks and have decreased their time in the library because articles and textbooks can be obtained online.
One of the critical attributes of Millennials that has been shown in the research includes optimism. We hear a lot about Millennials being narcissistic, but they are also quite optimistic. Also, this generation has been described as being sheltered. As compared to Generation X, these days, if we put a key around the neck of a seven-year-old to let themselves into the house, we would be arrested. Things have changed. Whereas all of this independence from a previous generation was so embedded, Millennials are not afforded the same independence, and we can start to see the repercussions of that, whether positive or negative.
This generation thrives on personal attention and receiving accolades. You may have heard older generations bemoaning "participation awards" and the fact that these days, "everyone wins." However, as Millennials growing up in that environment, the way that we think about rewards and recognition has shifted. We'll talk about that later as it relates to the field of audiology.
Millennials are viewed as being ambitious, but because of all the multitasking and access to technology and the internet, sometimes they can be perceived as unfocused. Also, they are very at ease in teams, as there is a lot of teamwork not only in sports and activities but also in school. This is the group that grew up with pod seating in classrooms instead of rows of desks facing the teacher. They also value self and impact over work title.
The research shows that Millennials do not want their work to be measured in time. They often see work as the space between when they're doing the other things that they love. Work is part of their life; it does not define their life. They focus on trying to work smarter and not harder. They don't like it when they feel they're being judged for not working hard, even though they're getting the same amount of work done.
At this point, not many studies have been conducted on the Post-Millennial generation. As such, I did not spend a lot of time on this group. That's not to say that people aren't talking about Post-Millennial, but for this presentation, I tried to focus on the research.
Generations: A Review of the Research
Many of the generational traits and attributes I've talked about so far might be described as stereotypes. The goal of this presentation was to find out if that's true and to identify the "real" research that exists. We will review some of the literature, and then we'll pivot to talk about how these generational differences apply to the field of audiology.
In 2010, Jean Twenge conducted a meta-analysis that evaluated published evidence on generational differences in the workplace. The title of Twenge's article is "A Review of the Empirical Evidence on Generational Differences in Work Attitudes" (Twenge, 2010). Interestingly, out of all of the articles that Twenge reviewed, there were only a few things that surfaced as statistically significant consistent findings that are could be viewed as empirical evidence.
Twenge's research review suggests that:
- Work is less central for younger employees compared to older employees.
- Older employees have a stronger work ethic compared to younger employees.
- Younger employees more highly value leisure compared to older employees.
- Younger employees self-report more workplace individuality compared to older employees.
However, it is worth noting that two crucial points deserve strong emphasis:
- In contrast to the assertions of the media and many pop theorists, these findings (above) are the only “scientifically validated” generational differences emerging in the literature. In other words, despite popular opinion, the literature did not definitively show that Millennials are narcissistic, for example.
- No generational differences emerged in workplace or personal values in any of the studies, despite the fervent assertions we are constantly confronted with.
Figure 1 shows a summary of the only findings that Twenge determined to be "empirically valid."
Figure 1. Empirically valid findings from Twenge's meta-analysis (2010).
- With regard to work ethic, it was found that Traditionalists scored higher than Baby Boomers, who scored higher than Gen-X, followed by Gen-Y. Keep in mind that at the time, the Traditionalists were in their late 60s, early 70s, and the Baby Boomers were in their late 50s.
- With regard to work centrality (how much do I put work in the forefront of my life), Traditionalists placed more importance on work than Baby Boomers, who placed more emphasis on work than Gen-X, with Gen-Y/Millennials placing the work as the least central.
- As it relates to altruism (helping, volunteering), no scientific differences were found across generations.
- Findings showed that the Millennial/Gen-Y generation value leisure activities higher than Gen-X and Baby Boomers.
- The next trait that was found to be empirically valid relates to job satisfaction and intention to leave. Gen-Y scored higher in job satisfaction than Gen-X. However, with regard to intention to leave, the finding was the opposite (Gen-Y scored higher than Gen-X). In other words, people aren't leaving their jobs because they're not satisfied. We have to dig deeper into why young professionals aren't staying in the same job for many years. In previous generations, there were perks and benefits that used to exist that would incentivize a person to feel confident staying in the same position for a long time (e.g., pensions, vesting, stock options). These types of incentives are not as prevalent as they used to be. When someone seems to be leaving, it's not that they're unfocused or dissatisfied. Interestingly, you can rate higher for satisfaction and still have a higher rate of intention to leave.
- Regarding intrinsic values (meaning, using talents more so than title and pay), there were no statistically significant differences found across generations. However, Gen-X was found as the group that places the most emphasis on extrinsic values (money and status), with Gen-Y coming next and Baby Boomers ranking the least.
- Affiliation and social values. In a longitudinal study where they looked at a generation as they aged, Baby Boomers rated the highest with regard to affiliation and social values, followed by Gen-X and then Gen-Y. However, in a cross-sectional study (capturing a moment in time), Millennials rated the highest with regard to affiliation and social values, followed by Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers.
Cross-Sectional vs. Longitudinal Studies
As stated earlier, I feel that it's important to highlight the difference between cross-sectional versus longitudinal studies. For example, if you were to go back and read information about Baby Boomers when they were much younger (when they were "hippies" or "flower children"), they didn't want to work, they wouldn't cut their hair, and they were completely antiestablishment. However, this generation has evolved to the point where their responses to these work ethic questions are much different than when they were in their teens and 20s. In the Twenge study, she uncovered and reviewed just three longitudinal studies (Families and Work Institute, 2006; Smola and Sutton, 2002; Twenge et al., in press). Essentially, all those studies focused on the centrality of work, and the findings suggest that it is an age effect that work becomes more central to somebody as they get older, regardless of the generation to which they belong.
In a study by Real and colleagues, they found no practical generational differences in work ethics, job values, or gender beliefs in a national sample of over 2,500 blue-collar workers (Real et al., 2010). In another study, researchers looked at over 26,000 young adults from 1982 to 2007, and they found no evidence of increased narcissism or self-centeredness (Trzesniewski et al., 2008). They concluded that these results "cast doubt on the belief that today's young people have increasingly inflated impressions of themselves compared to previous generations."
Is It All Stereotypes?
I began this presentation by giving you some traits and attributes that could be classified as stereotypes. Then, I talked about how the research doesn't necessarily show that every single one of those things is 100% true. Now, I'm going to ask, "Is it all stereotypes? Is it all fake, is it all the media, is it all pop culture?" Real or not, research shows that collectively, people do believe it. Therefore, it impacts and shapes us.
AchieveGlobal surveyed 350 employees at all levels in China, Germany, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, as well as the US (Manhertz, 2007). They found that younger employees were more likely to think they are more efficient in multitasking and more creative than their older working peers. Older employees were more likely to think that they have a stronger work ethic than younger workers and that younger employees demand more recognition. Why does this matter? It matters because people are making hiring decisions. People are making contract decisions and training decisions based on this information.
In 1997, Hayward and colleagues found that 30% of hiring managers, when surveyed, saw older employees as challenging to train. Additionally, 34% viewed older employees as unable to adapt to new technology, and 36% saw them as too cautious. Interestingly, in that very same study, 79% of hiring managers saw younger employees as less reliable (Hayward et al., 1997). Another study from 2006 saw that managers with significant age-based biases cited older employees for poor performance more often and more severely than they cited younger employees (Rupp et al., 2006). Although there is an element of ageism on both sides, younger employees are given more of the benefit of the doubt. Whether or not these are stereotypes, they are based on real science.
The Impact of Generational Differences in the Field of Audiology
This leads us to the question of whether we are guilty of this in audiology? How do age and generational differences play into what we do across a variety of settings (e.g., hospitals, private practices, dispensing offices, school systems)? How much does it impact our field? Is it ultimately helping us to change and make decisions in how we hire and how we plan?
I work in a major hospital center with multiple satellites. After graduation, if new grads are fortunate enough to get a position at another pediatric hospital when they leave, they're often relegated to a satellite, and it takes time to work your way up to the hub. If I have a satellite position open, where there's just one audiologist there, I tend not to consider new grads. The reason has nothing to do with generational or work ethic differences, but rather the fact that a brand new audiologist could greatly benefit from having another audiologist around to ask questions, to bounce things off of. In some systems, it's almost a punishment to be new. When I hire new grads, they do get a position here at the hub because I want them surrounded by other people who can help them continue to grow and learn as they go through the first few years of their career.
The next example I'd like to share with you comes directly from people coming up to me after talks or sending me emails. Millennials will often say that they see their older colleagues as slow because they need to work so many hours to get their job done. On the other hand, many Baby Boomers perceive Millennials as lazy due to their mentality of not living to work, or not valuing their career at a high enough level. Research shows that one quality of Millennials is that they are very tenacious. However, because they are so comfortable with technology, they're used to a lot of distractions, and they can get work done on the go, Millennials may not seem like they are working because they're not sitting at a desk in front of a computer. We have to start not judging people quite as much by what we think is "work."
How Do We Adapt?
In the field of Audiology, how do we adapt to the fact that we're facing down a four-generation workforce? First, don't make assumptions. Allow each person to share their attributes with you. Be aware of key influencers to better understand what has shaped each person from a generational perspective. Understanding their influencers can be just as important as trying to understand someone from a cultural perspective, if they have a different country of origin or if they were raised differently. Don't ignore that there may be differences, but instead of slapping a label on a person, think about why someone might attack something a certain way. Allow that person to show you their work ethic and show you who they are.
For many of these situations, especially where you have a multi-generation workforce, I like to follow the Platinum Rule. Many of us are familiar with the Golden Rule ("Treat others the way you want to be treated") The Platinum Rule is to find out how someone else wants to be treated and treat them that way, not focusing inward treating others the way I want to be treated. It's essential to think that way and ask those questions because we gain a lot from having not only a diverse workforce but an inclusive workforce. Diverse means that you have a 65-year-old and a 27-year-old working together. Inclusion encompasses the notion of, "How do I make both the 65-year-old and the 27-year-old feel comfortable and confident in this working environment?"
Real Comments and Observations from the Field
Next, I'm going to share several comments and questions from another talk that I gave, and I will address each one of these comments separately as they relate to generational differences.
I can’t seem to keep any of these young audiologists, I invest in them, I train them, I pay for their licenses, etc., and they leave after a year or two. How do I make them stay?
Longevity does not mean the same as loyalty. The literature has scientifically shown that intention to stay is different across generations. If longevity is not as important to the Millennial or Post-Millennial generation, then maybe we need to change how we structure things like training and benefits. For example, perhaps we don't pay for all of the training or have some sign-on contract that says they'll be reimbursed for the initial training after a certain period. Another idea would be that if you invest in a new hire and they leave before X period, they would have to pay back the training costs. It's still giving that choice to the individual and giving you the assurance that they're going to get the training and licensure that they need, but you're protecting yourself a little. You can't necessarily expect a different group of people to fit into your mold. As leaders, we may need to acknowledge that we might need to make some changes and that one size does not fit all.
The following two comments are inter-related:
My boss is a Baby Boomer and doesn't seem to appreciate anything I do. I have worked in my role for six months and do not feel valued.
Since when do audiologists no longer realize that their paycheck is their “reward” for doing good work. Good work and happy patients are the baseline expectation; why do they seem to need a trophy for showing up and doing their job?
The literature shows that in general, a characteristic trait of Baby Boomers (and some early Gen-Xers) is that they do not rely as much on recognition for their satisfaction. It isn't necessarily of value for them. As such, they often don't think about giving recognition. If recognition is important to you, be curious. Ask questions of your leadership. Even when interviewing, ask how is excellence is rewarded at this institution. Focus on the Platinum Rule in these situations.
My new hire isn’t serious about their job. Socializing and being on their phone is all they care about. I feel like they are allergic to hard work.
Again, this is PERCEPTION. Millennials and post-millennials grew up with smartphones and believe they are multitasking, that their phone is not getting in the way of their work. They also do not think of the traditional 9-5 as the only time that work can get done. They may have also figured out a way to work on their phones. Be curious. Try to focus on the output you desire, and let go of what you see as right and wrong. Now, if they are sacrificing patient care quality (looking at phone during a patient appointment, not for research), you, of course, can have practice rules. Be explicit if phones or personal internet use is off-limits. Do not assume they would assume. Have open-minded conversations with your staff about phone and computer usage, working on the go, working from home. Determine where you can allow more flexibility and where you need to be more rigid. Conversely, for a person who is quick to multitask, don't assume that because an older person of a different generation is doing it differently that they're doing it wrong. As long as they can meet the demands of the job and get the job done, each person has the right to work in different ways.
How Can We All Work Together?
One way that we can work together is to embrace the strengths of each group and try not to focus so much on what divides us. Millennials and Post-Millennials are the most tech-savvy of any generation before. Also, they have a strong consumer focus. They know how to do market research. They are used to reading 15 reviews before they buy bread. They have a strong social media presence. These traits can help audiology in a new frontier of storefront and over-the-counter devices. Additionally, in the healthcare arena, many decision-makers (i.e., children of elderly patients and parents of pediatric patients) are in the Millennial generation.
One strength of younger generations is that they have a strong focus on collaborating with others. They are connected to other fields, to other people, and they are used to reaching out. This is important in an ever-changing healthcare climate where interdisciplinary teams are the norm. Also, this collaborative ability will be useful as we get into taking on more risk in evidence-based payment, we have to be looking at more than just an SRT. In contrast, Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers can be an asset in a work environment as they have real-life experiences that are invaluable to new professionals. Don't be so quick to write off the experience if it doesn't line up with something you read in a textbook. We all have to respect where others are coming from. No one generation has everything right. It will take a diverse team approach to come up with a new ideal. Recognizing and understanding that none of us have everything figured it out will take us a long way. Let's focus on what we share.
To work better together across generations, there are four common things that we all crave:
- Respect. We desire respect. We all want to feel valued and respected as individuals. That's true for all humans. If we start there, we'll work better together.
- Competence. We need to feel competent. We want our knowledge and experience to be valued, whether we've worked in the field for 4 or 40 years. Furthermore, people have a powerful need to hone and demonstrate their skills, and to be given opportunities to demonstrate their competence. These opportunities, along with recognition for effort and results, are powerful motivators for every generation.
- Connection. We need connection. We need the ability to collaborate with trusted colleagues and coworkers, regardless of age. Studies show this to be an intrinsic need more powerful than extrinsic needs, such as the desire to earn rewards and avoid punishment.
- Autonomy. We require autonomy, exercising self-control within guidelines to achieve shared goals. People want the freedom to shape their work to support the work of others. Some people bring their laptops and work on the go. Others need to come into the office to be productive. This kind of flexibility helps people of all ages thrive in any organizational setting.
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