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Posted July 18, 2017

Mind the (Generation) Gap: How Stereotyping Hinders Engagement

By Craig Deao, MHA

Perception of distinctions based on age is nothing new, yet we continue to grapple with how to connect with those outside of our own generational demographic. As far back as the 8th century B.C., the poet Hesiod wrote, “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words.”

At Studer Group we are regularly asked for our perspectives on generational leadership, and it’s easy to understand why when Millennials will comprise more than 75 percent of the American workforce by 2025. As workforce demographics continue to shift at a rapid rate, the need to double down on communication skills becomes critical. It could be deduced that the underlying interest in this topic is the genuine desire to understand what motivates others, or what makes people "tick."

What’s the Fuss?
The conversation around Millennials consistently leans toward the negative. Chances are, if you’ve heard Millennials discussed in the workplace, the stereotypes surrounding this group include expectations of participation trophies, impetuously looking for the next job and craving attention. Less discussed are the positive stereotypes, such as a preference for working as part of a team, wanting feedback to grow and develop and the desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. I hear this and think, “give me a group of Millennials any day!”

I don’t think there’s any doubt that when you were born and subsequent world events (i.e. the Great Depression, the Digital Revolution, 9/11) affect who you are. But, stereotyping in any form leads to assumptions that at best alienate us from forming connections and at worst foster combativeness – both of which can lead to disengaged employees. In leadership, relying on stereotypes inadvertently tells our staff that we do not value their individualism, and consequently their ideas, concerns or aspirations. An understanding of each of these personal motivators is necessary to fostering engagement.

Getting to Know You
When I first started working at Studer Group, I was impressed by the questionnaire I received asking me to provide some information about my interests, preferences on how I like to be recognized and my favorite foods or treats. This list was added to my contact information within our company directory for all to access, which provided them with an opportunity to get to know more about me, as well as some surefire ways to maximize any recognition. This is just one example of how you can utilize simple tools to build relationships and re-engage staff on a regular basis. Little personal inventories like this, especially as part of the onboarding process, sends the message that we as an organization are interested in what makes a difference to you individually.

If you can only do one thing to improve engagement, however, make it Rounding for Outcomes. This evidence-based list of communication practices, bundled together in a 10-minute conversation once a month with a direct report, responds to the number one reason employees say they leave an organization: a poor relationship with their supervisor. And by making a personal connection with people through rounding, finding out what’s working well in their world, and talking about what’s driving them outside of work, you uncover the cues of personal motivation. These drivers are also directly correlated with engagement, according to Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement Survey.

Ultimately, it’s ok to look for demographic trends, so long as we don’t make assumptions. I’d encourage you to identify the positive aspects that unite us across generations to seek common ground, rather than focus on the ways that we’re different. In doing so, we get a better understanding of what our colleagues value, and we can work together in a more positive and productive manner.

Additional ideas on how to build better employee, leader, clinician and patient engagement can be found in Craig’s book, “The E-Factor: How Engaged Patients, Clinicians, Leaders, and Employees Will Transform Healthcare.”

Craig Deao, MHA is an author, national speaker, senior leader at Studer Group and managing director of Huron. Craig is a highly-regarded expert on leadership, engagement, quality and patient safety.

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