Veterinary medicine: The Next Generation


Your ship-er, practice-is run with all types of personalities from different worlds-baby boomers, Generation X'ers and millennials. They can all work together to boldly care for a pet as no pet has been before.

A badge in common for all, no matter your age. Prepare to engage in better communication. ( other day I was talking to my daughter about her work in a large biotech company where she's a director. A Gen-Xer, she was lamenting about millennials and the challenges of leading them. I was intrigued since as a late baby boomer and the father of two Gen-Xers, I've never worked directly with millennials.

The labels of “silent generation,” “baby boomer,” “Generation X” and “millennial” are descriptive banners that identify differences among generational categories, the forces that influenced them, when they matured into college and the workforce, and how their drivers and expectations vary. Having struggled with the transition from one generation to the next, baby boomers were well aware of the differences between themselves and Generation X.

But millennials are very different creatures. It's amazing how much has been written and said about them-a good indication of how poorly we were prepared for their impact. The just-emerging Generation Z will be even more different. Although plenty of baby boomers have already retired or will soon retire, many are still involved in businesses and must learn to understand millennials if they are to maintain relevance.

Millennials' hope as they come aboard

Thanks in large part to their exposure to and familiarity with technology, millennials are extremely well-educated. However, their attitudes and behaviors differ markedly from those of other generations. At work, those attitudes often conflict with the work habits of baby boomers, which they may find rather archaic.

Think of the moral of the story in the fable about the tortoise and the hare: “Slow and steady wins the race.” Boomers race like tortoises-slow but steady. Meanwhile, millennials are like hares. The operative word is speed. Millennials crave knowledge and growth. They thrive on connectivity and shun isolation in the workplace.

Like most boomers, I enjoy peace and quiet, but millennials require constant stimulation or they quickly become bored. Boomers have had a high probability of remaining in the same job for years or even decades, while the average millennial stays around 18 months. Unlike boomers, who believe in the reward formula “work hard so you can eventually play hard,” millennials strive to integrate work and play. Free time is almost the structure rather than the goal.

There's a myth that millennials feel entitled, but I think in fact that they're empowered. They're not lazy; they just don't need your job. They have many opportunities and pathways and won't accept just any position.

They require constant daily feedback-preferably all positive. Of course, everyone needs job feedback. While boomers appreciate and expect formal assessment at regular intervals, millennials prefer ongoing evaluation feedback on a personal level on a nearly daily basis. Boomers understand and accept a chain of command while millennials expect relationships.

The key to a firm federation

How can two such dissimilar groups work together productively and in harmony? By allowing each group to bring valuable contributions and be integrated into the workplace culture. They unwittingly strengthen each other, and business needs them both.

Authorities recommend several tips to facilitate the integration of millennials into the workplace:

• Be sure to share your vision and work to inspire them.

• Share your purpose and the reason you think something is important.

• Give them feedback without them asking for it. They expect and thrive on repeated praise and want acknowledgment.

• Be flexible. Try to see through their eyes-understand their wants and needs.

• Give them stimulating, challenging roles and activities. Don't let them become bored. Predictability may have been a goal for boomers, but it's a career killer for millennials.

• Let them find their own way. Give them space to learn, discover and experiment. Millennials like a challenge and the chance to create innovative solutions. Millennials like to learn through immersion, engagement, trial and error, and entrepreneurial activities.

• Make them feel like they belong. They're part of the vision and values-and you want to be part of theirs.

• Minimize the number and length of meetings. Allow them to collaborate virtually. They see technology as essential and as a means for self-expression and learning.

With every generation, new worlds to explore

There have always been generational differences. The silent generation did what they were told. Baby boomers rebelled and did what they thought was right. Gen-Xers were born practically with a keyboard in their crib and would rather work to live than live to work. And millennials? Well, they'll do what they want as long as it remains what they want.

Just as has happened with generational differences in the past, these disparities may become diffused over time. But between now and then, employers who tap into the unique strengths this new generation offers will have a competitive edge by harvesting everything a multigenerational workforce can deliver.

Dr. Mike Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

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