The changing demographics

Generational differences in the workplace are one aspect of diversity. There is a rapidly changing workforce dynamic with different generations working together and a globally mobile health workforce. So how can health leaders best manage multiple generations of workers? (Note: in this course we will be using the terms intergenerational and multigenerational interchangeably).

Five generations working side by side

The health workforce has often been described as being heterogeneous. Heterogeneous, according to the Collins Dictionary means that the health workforce ‘consists of many different types of people’.

Doctors, nurses, allied health clinicians, public health workers, cleaners, technicians and administration staff all contribute to a functioning health system. Each of these professional groups have their own norms and knowledge bases. The health system is also heterogeneous as workers can be from different cultures, genders, ages, training, educational and professional backgrounds. This diversity reflects the deep and rich experience, talent, knowledge and skills of the people working in our health industry.

One of the challenges for health service managers is that the workforce of today and the immediate future will be comprised of five different generations. Each generation is defined by the era in which they were born and bring with them their own ethical values, expectations and ways of working. A demographic phenomenon like this has never been witnessed previously. We will experience five generations working side by side and will soon be joined by graduates born after 2000.

The generations are described below:

Generation Born
Traditionalists prior to 1946
Baby Boomers between 1946 and 1964
Gen X between 1965 and 1976
Millennials between 1977 and 1997
Gen 2020 after 1997

How has work changed over time?

What does this mean in practice? One way to look at this is to stop and think about the way that work has changed over time. A traditionalist, for example, would have commenced work in the 1960s and has adapted to many innovations and technologies during their career. At the time when the traditionalist started work, the most significant workplace innovation was the main-frame computer. Meanwhile, in the millennial, we see an individual who has grown up with technology, using it at home and university, and whose mobile phone has greater processing power than the first personal computers used by the traditionalist.

In Australia, computers were not part of everyday work until the 1980s. At this time personal computers became more widely used in health for administration and management purposes. Whilst banks and other industries invest heavily and adopt technologies more rapidly than health, the health industry does continually adopt technologies. There will be ongoing improvements to electronic health record systems, diagnostic and other information and communication technologies. The health sector also adapts to legislation and consumer demands for new models of care delivery. For example, Telemonitoring can be used in combination with home visits and could radically change the models of care and way that health is delivered.

Whilst there might be tensions and differences in values and ways of working, the multi-generational workforce has many advantages for health care organisations: For example

  • A diverse workforce means it is vibrant and will possess a range of skills and experience from novice practitioner through to extremely skillful.
  • Understanding the contribution of each generation and focusing on similarities rather than differences can be an important approach for health leaders. (Stanley 2010).

What motivates each generation?

Health leaders should consider what drives and motivates each generation and strive to identify ways to engage with each group. This can help to retain and recruit clinicians, such as nurses (Stanley, 2010). Clear communication, understanding each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, valuing and supporting diversity and avoiding generalisations can also help leaders to work successfully and build effective teams of multigenerational health workers (Savino, 2018).

These are just some of the approaches that can be used and we will learn more about this in the next Step.

Your task

Choose a country, or a place where you have experienced working with people from different countries, ages, level of training, experience and cultural backgrounds. Was this workforce effective? Describe some of the challenges? For those of you who might not have that experience yet, consider what that experience would be like? What challenges do you foresee?

References

Davey, L. (2018). The key to preventing generational tension Is remembering that everyone wants to feel valued. Harvard Business Review: Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2018/07/the-key-to-preventing-generational-tension-is-remembering-that-everyone-wants-to-feel-value

Meister J. C., Willyerd C. (2009). Are you ready to manage five generations of workers? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2009/10/are-you-ready-to-manage-five-g

Moore, J., M; Everly,M., ; Bauer, R., (2016) Multigenerational challenges: Team-Building for positive clinical workforce outcomes, Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 21(2).

Savino E., (2017). Quick! How do I deal with a multigenerational workforce?, Strategic HR Review, 16(4): 192-193. Retrieved from: https://doi-org.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/10.1108/SHR-09-2016-0087

Stanley, D. (2010). Multigenerational workforce issues and their implications for leadership in nursing, Journal of Nursing Management, vol 18, 846–852. Retrieved from: http://www.web.uwa.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/1879464/Multigenerational-workforce-issues.pdf

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This article is from the free online course:

Future-proofing the Health Workforce

Griffith University