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Speaker: Different Strategies Needed for Multiple Generations of Employees

ORLANDO, Fla. — O&P business owners should not take a one-size-fits-all approach to managing employees from different generations, according to Joyce J. Perrone, director of business development for De La Torre Orthotics & Prosthetics Inc. and consulting partner for PROMISE Consulting Inc. Perrone shared information on managing multiple generations in a session at the American Association of Orthotists and Prosthetists Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium.

While there is some overlap, Perrone said most workers can be placed in one of the following three categories: baby boomers; “Gen Xers” or those from Generation X; and millennials. For the purposes of Perrone’s discussion, the baby boomer group includes ages 52 years to 70 years; Gen X includes ages 34 years to 51 years; and millennials are ages 33 years and younger. Perrone noted the baby boomer generation is the largest and there are more millennials than Gen Xers. The size of different groups has an impact on the workplace, she said, but she added “a lot of this will depend geographically. Some areas of the country have more people in different age groups, so it is important that you understand your own demographics where you live.”

Perrone said rather than treating all employees equally in all facets of the workplace, employers need to take into account differences due to age and culture.

“When you work with boomers, your performance appraisal is going to be a little different than working with someone who is [a millennial]. You do not evaluate somebody who is in their mid-to-late 50s the same way you would evaluate somebody who is in their 20s or 30s. You are going to treat them differently,” she said. “If you treat them the same, you are hitting everything with a hammer and you are not going to get the same outcome.”

Baby boomers

Knowledge of the aging process and awareness of age discrimination are important for any employer, according to Perrone.

“Conduct management training on the subject of aging to prevent age discrimination and encourage the use of older workers,” she advised.

She suggested O&P facility owners who also work with older adult patients can bring in a speaker who is an expert on the aging process to help everyone in the facility better understand both patients and employees.

Perrone said one problem that can occur with baby boomer employees is resistance to change.

“You want to try to encourage [employees], from a management level, not to have these hardened attitudes,” she said. “At a certain level, [an employee should] start being a mentor and mentoring others in a positive way. If [an employee] starts being a negative influence, we need to go and address that from a management perspective.”

She added, “It just depends on the individual and sometimes, we have to put down our blinders of not learning. We need to have a culture that supports learning.”

Perrone said she has been consulted by a company with an older employee who could no longer perform the physical tasks of the job. She said people who work in O&P often already understand the importance of workplace modifications for patients, and these should be applied to employees.

“There are many things we can do in these situations. One is we can certainly provide different aids, ways to change the layout of what they are doing,” she said. “You are in this industry dealing with people who have all kinds of disabilities and there is no reason these things should stop us. We just may need to have ways to change that environment to work with that individual.”

When appropriate, she said, the employer also can talk to the employee about job rotation or working part-time.

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Gen X

Members of Generation X are collaborators.

“They love participative networks — the ability to talk in and amongst each other and work together,” Perrone said. This group tends to feel more comfortable with working in open floor plans than being separated by cubicle walls.

Perrone said because many Gen Xers saw their parents laid off, they value family above their jobs.

“A lot of Gen Xers plan to stay with one job throughout their career and they are not going to sacrifice their family for their job,” she said. “You see that a lot with boomers, where they sacrifice their family for the job.”

Along the same lines, she said, Gen X employees will not give up their vacation time. They value the benefits of job flexibility and relationships — such as having a close friend at work — above salary and prestige.

At the same time, Gen Xers have a strong work ethic, according to Perrone. They tend to be functional and efficient. They also place a high value on technology and like to learn new things, so Perrone said O&P facilities need to ensure that their tools are up-to-date.

Gen X managers do not try to be liked by their employees and may have trouble with employees who do not share their work ethic. They also may show impatience with poor performance and provide less attention to employees who are needy, Perrone said.

Millennials

Millennials tend to look at the benefits for themselves in any situation, according to Perrone. This means they have high expectations from institutions. They want their jobs to provide opportunities and challenges, and they want to know they can provide value. Perrone said if millennials feel their jobs do not have meaning, they will leave the company. They also will leave if they feel they are not properly managed or their contributions do not have value.

Although older managers may expect millennials to pay their dues, Perrone said millennials do not share this mindset.

“They want to know age and number of years of experience [are] not a barrier to making an impact,” she said. “They want to be heard.”

At the same time, they are willing to develop strong relationships with their managers as long as they feel respected, according to Perrone. They appreciate specific feedback and are fine with micromanagement “but not in a way that is authoritarian.”

Presentation is important to millennials and they will learn more from dynamic experiences than from sitting in a lecture, Perrone said. O&P facility owners should try to communicate in a way that is vivid and compelling, she added, because it can be difficult to capture a millennial’s attention.

Conflict and crossover

Perrone encouraged O&P facility owners to consider their company culture and which generation it is targeted toward.

For example, “most employee motivation efforts have been designed by the boomers and they are being pushed down on these next generations. So you want to include [people from different] generations on your leadership team,” she said. “Do not have a leadership team that is all one group that thinks alike. [Have] a nice blend, so your programs are more robust.”

Facility owners should also look for different ways to reward employees of different generations. Gen Xers and millennials place more value on personal growth than boomers do, she said.

Perrone emphasized the importance of managing employees well and working with the people who have been hired rather than fostering constant turnover.

“Replacing experienced workers of any age can cost 50% or more of the individual’s annual salary in turnover-related costs,” she said, adding, “If you have a sports team that keeps losing, they do not keep getting rid of the players. Eventually, they get rid of the coach. Sometimes, you have to hold the mirror up. It might be you [who] is the problem and not the employee.” – by Amanda Alexander

Disclosure: Perrone reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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