Tapping the Talents of Millennials

February 19, 2018
Carolyn C. Shadle, PhD

John L. Meyer, PhD

Veterinarians Money Digest, February 2018, Volume 2, Issue 2

We zero in on what this much-discussed generation has to offer in the veterinary practice.

When Anna Palin was hired as receptionist at Capital Veterinary Clinic (not a real clinic), she was misunderstood, perhaps because the older staff recognized that she had abilities different from their own. Her colleagues noticed, for instance, that Palin could answer very difficult questions without looking up from her computer. She was a millennial, and she was used to finding information quickly from a quick Google search, which set her apart from some of her older coworkers. But there’s much more to millennials than just being technologically savvy.

What Is a Millennial, Anyway?

Dates vary, but millennials usually are defined as those born between 1982 and 2008 — coming of age around the millennial year. They are sometimes referred to as Generation Y or Generation Me. According to Jean M. Twenge, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who has conducted copious research on generational characteristics, generational differences between millennials and their predecessors are centered around their worldview, with millennials focusing more on the self and less on social rules — thus the term Generation Me.1

What Makes Millennials Different?

To understand the millennial worldview, one must appreciate the events that have contributed to it. Joan Nieman, owner of Essential Elements, a business consulting firm for pet care professionals, points out that every generation is impacted by events surrounding its formative years. The millennial generation experienced the 9/11 attacks, the war on terror, corporate malfeasance (think Enron, Goldman Sachs and BP Deepwater Horizon), the Great Recession, and scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church and heroes like Tiger Woods.


  • Balancing Three Generations of Veterinarians in Your Clinic
  • Why - and How - You Should Engage With Millennials

Before we use a broad brush to describe, label and categorize any age group, however, we should be cautioned about the danger of hasty generalizations. Individually, millennials may have been affected differently by these same events.

That said, some commonalities are worth noting. Although some see a dark side to millennials, observing seemingly negative characteristics, others view those same characteristics, among others, as offering a bright positive to the workplace equation.

On the Dark Side

Those critical of millennials are likely to make the following types of comments.

Millennials don’t want to work hard. Referring to high school seniors in the 2000s, Dr. Twenge reported, “Nearly 40 percent of millennials said they didn’t want to work that hard (an opinion embraced by only 25 percent of boomers), and fewer than half agreed that they would definitely be willing to work overtime to do a good job.”2

Millennials want to stay home and play video games all day instead of working. Erik Hurst, a macroeconomist and millennial expert at the University of Chicago, has looked at the research and raises this question: “Are young men playing video games because they are not working, or are they not working because they are playing video games?”3 Hurst thinks the latter may be the case — why work when you can live at home and play video games?

Millennials are slackers who lack focus. Bruce Tulgan, founder of the management training consultancy RainmakerThinking, said, “This will be the most high-maintenance workforce in history.”4 He concurs with those who say that if millennials are not supervised constantly, they become distracted and skip off the job. For her part, Nieman said she believes managing today’s workforce presents a new set of challenges. “To some of us, millennials are an alien species … we don’t understand how to deal with their ‘slacker’ attitude,” she said. “This generation grew up with lots of parental hand-holding and adult over-supervision. They are not accustomed to doing things entirely on their own.”5,6

Millennials prematurely expect promotions and want rewards for every little thing. A Harris Interactive survey for CareerBuilder indicated that 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed believe they should be promoted within two to three years.7 Ron Alsop, the author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace,” explained it this way: “The millennials were brought up with an ‘everyone’s a winner’ mentality. Their parents were told to boost their children’s self-esteem. Hence, their offspring seek acceptance and continual ‘pats on the back.’”8

Millennials feel entitled. The term “entitled” is often ascribed to millennials — entitled to move up quickly in their job, even “entitled” to the job itself. As one young graduate wrote, “You are not even guaranteed a job after going to college! And once we graduate, we are in debt up to our ears! What do you mean I’m not guaranteed a job?”2

Millennials constantly criticize and question authority. Having lived through numerous high-profile scandals and betrayals, like that of Bernard Madoff, many millennials are unlikely to take advice from an authority figure without question. Julie Reck, DVM, owner of Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill in South Carolina, and member of the Veterinarian’s Money Digest® Editorial Advisory Board, has noticed that her millennial teammates are inclined to challenge a change in policy and require the reason to be clearly articulated. Unlike earlier generations of children who were taught to be “seen but not heard,” members of the millennial generation were taught to speak their minds.

Millennials are undependable. Human resources specialist Frances (Frankie) Williams discovered a problem at her New Jersey practice during the summertime when many millennials called in sick to join their friends at the beach. “They want a life,” she said, so she had to institute a summer bonus plan to ensure coverage all season.

Millennials don’t listen. Millennials are likely to be too busy to converse with coworkers, because they are checking their smartphones an estimated 43 times a day, according to Christine Shupe, executive director of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association.9 Management consultant Simon Sinek agrees that some millennials are so addicted to their smartphones that they can’t fully participate in meetings,10 leading to phones being forbidden in some workplaces.

Millennials don’t dress professionally. Most millennials (60 percent) don’t believe that how they dress is indicative of performance.5 This group is not concerned with social rules. They are likely to show up wearing flip-flops, with nose rings and visible tattoos. Millennials might find it difficult to conform to required standards of dress, such as a hospital uniform. On the Bright Side

Some deny these criticisms, and others see some of these characteristics as positive rather than negative attributes. Those who praise millennials and paint a cheerier picture of this young generation are likely to say the following. Millennials are hard workers. Erin Epperly, DVM, a millennial and associate veterinarian at Peak View Animal Hospital in Fowler, Colorado, said, “We do have a strong work ethic. We can work hard on the job and play hard when we’re not.”11

Millennials understand the importance of work-life balance. Millennials who say they “want a life” can teach everyone the importance of balance. More than previous generations, they value time for family, education and other pursuits. While this may mean less willingness to work overtime, the health and well-being they maintain as balanced employees are a plus for the practice.

Millennials want to work, but employers need to understand what motivates them. The office staffing and workforce solutions company Kelly Services recently conducted a survey of more than 100,000 millennials and found that this generation is less interested in the size of their paycheck and more interested in personal fulfillment in a supportive and encouraging work environment.5

Millennials are willing to work independently, even facing risks. A survey by Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts found that 67 percent of young people want to start their own business. Bentley management professor Fred Tuffile, PhD, told Forbes, “Millennials are realizing that starting a company, even if it crashes and burns, teaches them more in two years than sitting in a cubicle for 20 years … While they know their chances of creating another Facebook are low, they do think it’s fairly easy to create a cool startup.”12

Millennials are all for teamwork. More than earlier generations, most millennials have worked in study teams as they pursued their education. This comfort with and openness to teamwork is often in contrast to senior doctors, who may think “It’s all about me,” and can be a great asset in building cooperation and collaboration in the practice.

Millennials have high expectations. The flip side of the entitlement accusation is that millennials are a generation with soaring expectations. They were raised to believe they can be anything they want to be. More than the generation that followed them, millennials are likely to believe they can earn college and graduate degrees. According to Dr. Twenge, “They arrive at their job interviews believing they already know everything.”2 Some call this optimistic and confident.

Millennials are passionate about bettering the world. Wendy Hauser, DVM, vice president of veterinary relations for Crum + Forster Pet Insurance Group and also on the Veterinarian’s Money Digest® board, said one of the things she loves about this generation is their passion for improving the world and their commitment to service. She references a book fair organized by millennials at a Colorado veterinary hospital in which the money raised was used to house abused women’s pets that were not allowed at the local women’s shelter.

Millennials are not afraid to challenge the rationale of decisions and protocols if the logic and reasoning are not sound. Millennials often question authority because they were taught to speak their minds. Given their experiences, Nieman wrote, “It’s no surprise that millennials approach the powerful with skepticism.”5 That can be seen as a real positive that keeps a practice moving forward with integrity. Millennials can be depended on to seek the soundness of policies and protocols. “They are realistic and won’t turn a blind eye,” Nieman wrote. “Their realism and honesty can be an asset.”5

Millennials communicate — they just do it differently. Millennials may not always appear to be listening, but they are multitaskers who can show amazing understanding and often communicate in nontraditional ways, especially using technology. Their lack of direct eye contact and near-constant attention to their technology does not mean they aren’t participating. A tablet or smartphone that may be distracting to some may not be a hindrance to others.

Millennials are comfortable with technology. This generation’s comfort with technology is a major asset to be tapped by veterinary practices. Amanda Donnelly, DVM, MBA, owner of Florida-based ALD Veterinary Consulting, points out that it is often because millennials embrace technology that practices have moved toward texting to send appointment reminders, prescription refill notices, and postsurgical updates and photos.

By considering all aspects of the millennial workforce’s habits and desires, older workers can approach this generation with greater understanding, and practice owners and managers can build inclusive, strong veterinary teams. When interviewing prospective millennial employees, be prepared for questions like these:

  • How diverse is your practice?
  • What impact are you making?
  • Do you have a sense of community?
  • Are you flexible?
  • Will I be able to grow and learn?
  • Will you encourage me to build my network?
  • Do you have an open and understanding workplace?

To tap the talents of millennials, consider the following points:

Don’t be turned off by initial appearances. Hold your judgment, and look past the flip-flops and nose rings. Appearance is no longer considered a valid measure of employability.

Be as respectful of millennials as you would of any new applicant or team member. That means remembering some of this generation’s needs, such as the need to appreciate the rationale behind policies and protocols. Millennials will not accept being told “Do it because I said so.” Respect their need to understand the bigger picture.

Recognize millennials’ commitment to service. Appreciate their need to have purpose in their life and work, and tie that to the services your practice offers. Providing quality pet health care should be understood as the primary purpose, of course, but millennials may be looking for more, such as quality client experiences, consideration for clients unable to pay for unforeseen pet expenses, and support for local humane societies or other forms of community outreach.

Alter your management and supervision systems. Provide mentoring and direction appropriate to the needs of millennials who appear to lack focus.

Offer regular, positive feedback. Like other employees, millennials need to know how they are doing and what advancement requires. Don’t wait for the traditional annual review — give frequent feedback for accomplishments, both large and small.

Consider more opportunities for promotions. Millennials expect to move ahead rapidly in their job and will appreciate your vision of a path for their future. “Instead of a big leap every two years, consider four smaller leaps every six months,” Dr. Twenge suggested.2

Evaluate the work schedules. When possible, offer flexibility, vacation time and a variety of work experiences. Millennials value balancing work with other aspects of their life and will appreciate a practice that recognizes that.

Tap millennials’ knowledge of technology. Turn to your millennials to move your record-keeping to electronic medical records. Let them lead the way in adopting software to help clients make appointments online or order prescriptions. Those comfortable with computer apps can help you evaluate services that enable your clients to pro-vide feedback and reviews through Yelp or other online services.

Provide opportunities to enhance communication skills. Millennials may lack confidence when engaging with others face-to-face. Lunchtime workshops can help everyone enhance their interpersonal skills. Local, regional and national veterinary conferences also provide great opportunities for learning.

Encourage collaboration. Having experienced work-study teams in school, millennials usually will welcome opportunities to work with and learn from their teammates.

Looking to the Future

Whether you acknowledge the dark side or bright side of millennials — or maybe a little of both — this generation is a major part of the future veterinary profession. Appreciate them and help them contribute to the success of your business and the profession as a whole

Dr. Shadle earned her doctorate in interpersonal and organizational communication at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Dr. Meyer earned his doctorate in communication studies and speech arts at the University of Minnesota. They write and train through Interpersonal Communication Service, Inc. (VeterinarianCommunication.com). They have trained veterinary professionals at numerous national and international conferences.


  • Twenge JM. Generation Me — Revised and Updated: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster/Atria Books; 2014.
  • Twenge JM. iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster/Atria Books; 2017.
  • Spector N. It’s less work, more playing video games for today’s young men. NBC News website. nbcnews.com/business/consumer/it-s-less-work-more-playing-video-games-today-s-n782956. Published July 14, 2017. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  • Tulgan B. Bringing out the best in young talent: managing generations Y and Z. Rainmaker Thinking website. rainmakerthinking.com/assets/uploads/2013/10/Bringing-Out-the-Best-in-Young-Talent.pdf. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  • Nieman J. The challenge of a changing workforce: Living and working with millennials — Part 2. Essential Elements website. essentialpetconsulting.com/2013/12/the-challenge-of-a-changing-workforce-part-2/. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  • Nieman J. The challenge of a changing workforce: Living and working with millennials — Part 1. Essential Elements website. essentialpetconsulting.com/2013/11/the-challenge-of-a-changing-workforce-part-1/. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  • Smith J. How millennials work different from everyone else. Forbes website. forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/09/13/how-millennials-work-differently-from-everyone-else/&refURL=https://www.bing.com/&referrer=https://www.bing.com/. Published September 13, 2012. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  • Alsop R. The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking up the Workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2009.
  • Shupe C. Quiz: Do you know millennials? Really? DVM360 website. veterinaryteam.dvm360.com/quiz-do-you-know-millennials-really?pageID=3. Published May 11, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  • Crossman D. Simon Sinek on millennials in the workplace [video]. YouTube. youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU. Published October 29, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  • Larkin M. The generation factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business. avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/141101a.aspx. Updated November 24, 2014. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  • Heider N. Millennials: Turning business ideas into business success. MJ Insurance website. mjinsurance.com/2017/01/25/millennials-turning-business-ideas-business-success/. Published January 25, 2017. Accessed January 18, 2018.
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