For all the talk about millennial employees and how they function in the workplace, the focus might be better on how to create a stronger team overall. By John Burfitt
One of the popular communication catchphrases to emerge in recent years is ‘Stay in your own lane’, which in its broadest interpretation means, ‘Don’t compare yourself—do things your own unique way’. Which is all very well, but when you’re managing generational differences within a clinical workplace, those lanes tend to have a way of merging every day.
Managers are increasingly grappling with these generational differences, particularly in terms of the differing mindsets and communication styles of workers born in different eras. In addition, perpetually updating technology and ever-demanding work schedules mix employees of different ages; no wonder there’s workplace friction.
So, who’s mostly to blame? The standard answer—millennials.
By definition, millennials are those born from the early 1980s to the years around the millennium, while gen X were born between 1965 and 1980, and the baby boomers between 1946 and 1964.
Millennial employees have been accused of many things: they aren’t team players, they’re too easily distracted, and they’re demanding, over-entitled and lacking in resilience.
Not so, according to the report, ‘What culture works (and doesn’t) for millennials’ by Corporate Executive Board, a global best practice insights business.
This states that millennials are driven by competition, value feedback more than older generations and have higher expectations of a pay rise and a promotion—among other things, that they will receive both far sooner than has traditionally been the case. They are also more likely to use technology at work and value pay transparency.
“I spoke about some of these traits in a training session recently with a group of senior, mature CEOs, and a number of them responded, ‘In that case, I think I might be a millennial too!’” says Karen Gately, author of the The People Manager’s Toolkit.
“What’s interesting is that a lot of what the millennials are demanding in the workplace are just human needs and wants that are being clearly articulated. The work culture of the past did not complain so much and were taught to be afraid of change. Well, millennials are not afraid of change—they expect it and they’re less afraid of being clear about what they expect from a job, and will pursue that.”
Gately believes this is a major reason why millennials have gained their reputation for being impatient, entitled and disloyal. “In my experience, they just have a very different mindset about time and change and what to expect in terms of the pace of that,” she says. “I don’t believe they lack the professional integrity they have been accused of.”
Dr Rachel Mascord has worked in a number of practices with teams of staff of all ages and is currently a co-partner in her Sydney practice Dentessence with Dr Joanna Wyszynski, who she has mentored over the past decade.
Dr Mascord believes that to treat fellow workers based on their age can be courting danger. “If we get stuck on the superficialities of behaviour patterns, then we’re in big trouble,” she says. “We’ve got to be careful to look through the behaviours and understand that, in spite of any so-called generational differences, there is a commonality there, and that’s what you have to focus on in all your relationships.
“What’s interesting is that a lot of what the millennials are demanding in the workplace are just human needs and wants that are being clearly articulated.”—Karen Gately, author of The People Manager’s Toolkit
“No matter what the age of the person, being effective in managing your team comes down to connecting with them, listening and asking them what’s important. Talk to them as a fellow human being first, then as a fellow, equal dental professional, before assuming a tone you think fits because of their age.”
A starting point needs to be the professional workplace expectations set across the entire workforce, adds Karen Gately.“If you have strong values of being respectful, committed to quality and staying focused that are articulated clearly to everyone in the team, then you’re in a strong starting position to set behavioural expectations,” she says. “It’s a matter of giving direction, feedback and holding them accountable, no matter what age or stage they’re at.”
One important area of commonality to concentrate on is mentoring, as millennials are said to place more value on mentoring than previous generations ever did.
It is in mentoring that the exchange of ideas can best take place, and good mentoring is where the workers involved learn from each other, claims Dr Ky-Anh Nguyen, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Dentistry.
“Obviously the advantage of mature people is they have all the experience behind them and a set way of doing things, whereas the younger dentists I know are always keen to learn more in terms of treatment plans and options,” Dr Nguyen says.
“In addition, the younger dentists bring with them newer techniques, newer knowledge and more current up-to-date information. So, it can be a win-win situation if you have a team prepared to work with each other’s strengths, rather than differences, to make sharing knowledge a way the practice functions.”
He suggests information can be shared while chatting informally at lunch, or in more structured sessions during staff meetings when each practitioner is encouraged to talk about various cases. “It’s a matter of knowing the way your people work best, and then implementing a structure where they can bond over shared information and ideas,” Dr Nguyen says.
“Get people talking regularly like this, so it’s about inspiring ideas and good practice, and it’s sure to create a strong dynamic within the team.”
Consultant Julie Parker of Julie Parker Practice Success says creating a team that works well together remains a challenge for many workplaces—no matter what the age range is.
Creating an environment which embraces an approach to constant learning through staff meetings, professional development programs and mentoring agendas can be a significant way to keep everyone inspired on the job.
“Millennials hate being bored and are often up for any challenge, whereas some mature dentists can get into a rut of this is how they do their job and they don’t want to change that,” Parker says.
“But if your workplace encourages learning and feedback for people at all levels, then that can keep everyone focused on best practice. That takes leadership and structure, but it’s not that hard to achieve.
“Just always remember to focus on the strengths of each character and know what is it that they bring to the practice that makes them valuable. If each person understands what their role is within a team and why that’s important, then you could end up with a very empowered team working for you.”