Expert Panel Overview: Working with Different Generations

In almost every office of every business you'll find a team of staff that ranges across several different generations. Or, if your staff is comprised of a small team of only 2-4 people you might all fall into the same generation, but your patients and customers will most definitely span a large number of years.

Whether you're working with patients or your own team, you need to understand what makes people from different generations tick and the different styles in which they work. Across different generations, you'll notice differences in how people handle feedback, communicate, perform in meetings, make decisions, and more.

At Vision Expo West in Las Vegas in 2015, the Optical Women's Association held a Connection Series event that consisted of a panel of men and women across 4 different generations: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. The panelists used the book, Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, by Haydn Shaw, as a starting point as they discussed their own experiences. Here we'll share a few valuable insights that we learned from the event.

3 Things We Learned at the OWA Connection Series Event

There are 5 steps for leading through generational differences.

1. Acknowledge: Talk about generational differences

2. Appreciate: Focus on the why and not the what, and the common needs

3. Flex: Agree on how to accommodate different approaches

4. Leverage: Maximize the strengths of each generation

5. Resolve: Determine which option will yield the best results

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were raised outside, while Millennials were raised on technology.

During the panel discussion, each of the panelists shared their "ghost story". Ghost stories explain a little bit more in depth what shaped each generation. Big historical events like World War II, landing on the moon, and 9/11 are all major events that helped shape each generation. Understanding these ghost stories helps us better acknowledge and appreciate each generation.

When listening to the ghost stories shared by the panelists it helped me learn a lot about the differences of how each generation was raised, and how that impacted their personalities. For example, the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were raised outside and more independently. They grew up during a time when we were landing on the moon and were raised to believe that anything was possible.

While on the other hand, Millennials were raised by parents who were a little more reserved and didn't just ship their kids outside for the day. On top of that, Millennials were raised on technology. Technology, not the outdoors, gave Millennials their freedom and sense of community.

Each generation looks at decision making in the workplace a little differently.

The book offers a diagram showing how each generation thinks about how decisions should be made:

  • Traditionalists: The boss decides. Why? Both in and outside of the military we were believed questioning orders was insubordination.
  • Baby Boomers: We use decision making processes, and the boss ultimately decides. Why? We used surveys, quality circles, and process mapping to give criticism to our bosses.
  • Gen Xers: Whoever is the most savvy on the topic decides. Why? We learned from technology and nontraditional families to let the savviest person on the topic make the call.
  • Millennials: We work together through the options and decide together. If we can't, the boss decides. Why? We learned arbitration and group decision making in grade school.

If you haven't already read Sticking Points, I highly suggest you order yourself a copy and maybe even a copy for your whole team. Especially in an eyecare practice where your staff is dealing with patients from a variety of backgrounds and ages it's helpful to understand a little more about the people you are interacting with on a daily basis.

For more tips, look no further than our popular ebook Expert Staff Management in Eyecare


Editor's Note: This post has been updated for richness and relevance of content in 2021.

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