The Veterinary Generational Divide: Do Young Vets Really Work Less?
‘New graduates have changed completely in their attitudes to work over the last 10–12 years. They are only interested in what the job can offer them’.
‘[Graduates] have a lot less resilience than previous years. Seems like they want everything on a plate’.
‘They are only interested in their patients between 9 am and 4 pm, and don’t want to go the extra mile’.
Do any of these quotes sound familiar to you?
There is a growing generational divide in veterinary medicine. Research has shown that employers perceive younger vets as less resilient, less driven and less able to take responsibility for themselves in practice1.
But how true are these claims? Is there really a veterinary generational divide, or is something else at play here?
A Demographic Breakdown
There are several generations in the veterinary workplace:
Currently, much of the veterinary population is made up of Baby Boomers and Generation X. However, a large proportion of younger vets are Millennials or Gen Z (at the very lowest end of the spectrum) and the mix is changing rapidly as more boomers move into retirement.
Although generational markers aren’t an exact science (and shouldn’t be viewed as such) there are some generational stereotypes which are widely held in the workplace2:
Baby Boomers- In their youth, Baby Boomers were seen as entitled and rebellious. In the workplace, they have a reputation for being hardworking and loyal. Boomers are characterised as ‘workaholics’ with poor work/life boundaries.
Generation X- Gen X grew up in poorer economic conditions than Boomers, and are seen as driven and independent. They are perceived as having better work/life expectations, but can also be seen as uncooperative.
Millennials- This group is perceived as team and achievement-oriented. However, Millennials are seen as more ‘sheltered’ than other generations. They are thought of as having higher expectations in terms of work/life balance too3.
Gen Z- Gen Z are much more technologically advanced than other generations, however, since they are primarily students (and not yet in the workforce) there is not much data on their behaviours in the office.
Differences In Attitudes Towards Work
Differences in work attitudes can easily lead to tensions. They can influence how individuals view mentoring, scheduling and feedback. They can even affect graduate retention.
But how different are work attitudes between varying generations?
In one study on work attitudes within veterinary faculty, researchers found that different age groups had no discernible differences in attitude towards work-life balance and/or feedback. The researchers found more attitudinal differences between those with different roles than those of different generations4.
The findings of this report do not stand in isolation.
One meta-study of twenty papers found no tangible evidence of differences in job satisfaction, organizational commitment and/or turnover intentions between generations5. Other studies have discovered similar findings6.
Although there are a few papers on this subject, the reality is, that researchers simply do not possess sufficient methods for examining whether these differences actually exist.
Many papers are based on the ‘flawed logic’ that certain generations share collective traits. This thinking is faulty because, as humans, there are many variables that can influence how we behave (such as upbringing and income) making it hard to study7.
Therefore, at least in terms of workplace attitudes, there is no tangible way to prove that there are any differences between generations.
Are Younger Vets Less Resilient?
This question is difficult to answer for a number of reasons.
First, there isn’t any empirical data on this subject in veterinary medicine.
Second, the ‘markers’ of resilience, such as mental health prevalence, are misleading.
Although studies cite higher levels of psychological distress as an indicator of lower resilience, these differences may be simply due to the fact that mental health has become less stigmatised- and therefore more reported over the years. The insinuation that having a mental illness is somehow due to a lack of ‘reliance’ is also quite damaging.
Third, it is almost impossible to assess whether certain generations are more ‘resilient’ than others, as younger people (no matter the cohort) tend to be less resilient anyways, due to their lower levels of maturity8. Therefore, cross analyses are likely to be biased.
Although oftentimes older generations point to the helicopter parent theory, citing that younger generations are less resilient due to overbearing parenting, evidence suggests otherwise.
Having more parental support in childhood has been shown to increase reliance- rather than lessen it. One study found that ‘helicoptered children’ are not only more likely to have better life satisfaction, but also have more clearly defined goals9. Though some research has noted a correlation between helicopter parenting and poor emotional regulation in children, the true prevalence of helicopter parenting and its impacts on wider society is relatively unknown10.
So whilst the jury is still out on this one, there isn’t any strong evidence indicating that younger vets are ‘less reliant’ (at least, in terms of what you would expect of people their age) than you’d think.
Do Younger Vets Work Less?
Whilst attitudinal differences and resilience levels are not conclusive, can a case be made for younger vets work ethic (or lack thereof?).
In actuality, there is evidence that vets work a lot less than they used to. In 1998, the average vet worked for 48 hours a week. Whereas in 2019, the average male vet worked 43.4 hours a week, and the average female vet worked 41.9 hours a week (although this figure does not include on call hours so it could be higher)11 12.
However, it should be noted that whilst vets do work less than they used to, there is little difference in hours worked between age groups.
So whilst vets do work less than they used to, there is no evidence to indicate that younger vets are inherently less inclined to clock in the same hours as their seniors.
‘But if vets are working less, why are they more dissatisfied and burned out? Surely this is evidence that the younger generation are less resilient?’ – you may ask.
Whilst this is a valid argument, there is a base assumption in this statement- that only young vets are bouncing out the profession. When, in actuality, many boomers and Gen X are retiring or selling their businesses14 15.
So although this is certainly an interesting argument, again, it is not strong enough to conclusively prove the existence of a veterinary generational divide.
So, Where Do These Generational Sterotypes Come From?
Although it is hard to say whether there really is a veterinary generational divide, there is likely something bigger at play here.
The reality is since the dawn of time people have been complaining about the next generation. Back in the 1960s, Boomer’s parents would denounce their children as irresponsible ‘hippies’- even Millennials and Gen Z are at it, arguing over contentious topics such as skinny jeans and side parts16.
But why do these misconceptions arise?
Research has shown that when we assess the qualities of younger people, we base these assumptions on how we see ourselves.
For example, adults who consider themselves to be hardworking, are much more likely to think of young people as lazy. Whereas, adults who consider themselves as polite, are much more likely to think of young people as rude.
This happens because when we evaluate the qualities of younger people, we draw comparisons based on how we were at their age. Or rather, how we think we were.
The problem is human beings have terrible memories.
Research has shown that we adjust our perceptions of our past selves to that of the present. For instance, People who consider themselves to be good comunicators are much more likely to overestimate how good they were in the past.
Therefore, when we complain about young people, we are inadvertently comparing them to an idealized version of ourselves17. We forget that we developed these skills over time, and get frustrated when others don’t meet our expectations.
So instead of complaining about graduate vets, let’s use our collective expertise to help them. Senior vets have so much to offer in terms of experience and wisdom. Honing the skills of the next generation will not only benefit vets- but professional as a whole.
If you enjoyed this article on the veterinary generational divide, you should check out: Disheartened And Dissatisfied: Why Your Veterinary Grad Retention Is Low
1- ‘Experiences of employers, work colleagues, and mentors with new ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32814498/. Accessed 13 May. 2021.
2- ‘Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins.’ 17 Jan. 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/. Accessed 13 May. 2021.
3- ‘Generational Differences in Work Ethic: Fact or Fiction? | SpringerLink.’ 11 Oct. 2016, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10869-016-9466-5. Accessed 14 May. 2021.
4- ‘Comparison of attitudes between Generation X and Baby Boomer ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19436000/. Accessed 13 May. 2021.
5- ‘Generational Differences in Work-Related Attitudes: A Meta-analysis ….’ 11 Mar. 2012, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10869-012-9259-4. Accessed 14 May. 2021.
6-‘Generatieverschillen op de werkvloer: ‘What people believe is true is ….’ https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-18789-005. Accessed 14 May. 2021.
7- ‘Leadership and generations at work: A critical review – ScienceDirect.’ https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1048984316301771. Accessed 14 May. 2021.
8-‘Yes Ita, younger workers might actually be less resilient. But … – QUT.’ 28 Jul. 2020, https://www.qut.edu.au/business/insights/yes-ita-younger-workers-might-actually-be-less-resilient.-but-all-workers-should-be-thanked. Accessed 15 May. 2021.
9- ‘The Myth of the Helicopter Parent | Psychology Today United Kingdom.’ https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201302/the-myth-the-helicopter-parent. Accessed 15 May. 2021.
10- ‘Helicopter Parenting and Adolescent Development … – IntechOpen.’ 5 Oct. 2020, https://www.intechopen.com/books/parenting-studies-by-an-ecocultural-and-transactional-perspective/helicopter-parenting-and-adolescent-development-from-the-perspective-of-mental-health. Accessed 9 Jun. 2021.
11-‘A Survey of Employment in the UK Veterinary Profession in 2002.’ https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/publications/manpower-survey-2002/manpower_survey2002.pdf. Accessed 14 May. 2021.
12- ‘The 2019 survey of the veterinary profession – Royal College of ….’ https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/publications/the-2019-survey-of-the-veterinary-profession/. Accessed 14 May. 2021.
13- ‘The 2019 survey of the veterinary profession – Royal College of ….’ https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/publications/the-2019-survey-of-the-veterinary-profession/. Accessed 14 May. 2021.
14-‘Veterinary medicine evolving as new professionals enter workforce.’ 26 Nov. 2020, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/veterinary-medicine-evolving-as-new-professionals-enter-workforce/. Accessed 9 Jun. 2021.
15- ‘British veterinary practices undergo rapid consolidation – News – VIN.’ 1 May. 2018, https://news.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=210&Id=8534062. Accessed 9 Jun. 2021.
16- ‘The culture war between Gen Z and millennials is on. The first battle ….’ 10 Feb. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/10/the-culture-war-between-gen-z-and-millennials-is-on-the-first-battle-side-partings. Accessed 15 May. 2021.
17-‘Why the Old Look Down on the Young – WSJ.’ 5 Dec. 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-we-look-down-on-todays-kids-11575561273. Accessed 15 May. 2021.