How to Tackle the Generational Divide in Your Veterinary Practice

“Millennials are driving me mad…they expect instant results, have incredibly high expectations, want to work flexibly and don’t work as hard as I used to.”

This is a sentiment we hear frequently in one form or another from the leadership echelons of the veterinary community, and maybe you feel the same. Veterinary leaders are struggling to spin the plates as there seems to be an ever-diminishing understanding between Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. With the generational gulf widening, how can you be an effective veterinary leader?

According to Pew Research Center, in 2017 there were 56 million millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) in the workplace or looking for work, making them the largest generation in the US labour force. They value innovation, dislike hierarchy, appreciate trust and integrity. What’s more, unlike Gen X or Baby Boomers, millennials aren’t afraid to switch jobs in order to suit their needs and to seek out the best company culture for them. Particularly with Gen Z now entering the workforce, as a leader you must adapt before you get left behind and lose your staff.

We believe that bemoaning the millennial generation is not the answer. This only makes the generational gulf feel wider. Success comes in recognising commonalities, and then emphasising them. Follow these four steps, and your veterinary team will turn from fragmented and unmotivated, to cohesive and engaged…

Embrace Technology

When it comes to technology, millennials are often the brunt of the joke. On the other hand, millennials, as technology natives, could teach you a lot about the use of technology in business. Embracing technology has never been easier; online content is so accessible, from YouTube tutorials, to blog posts and training courses. Therefore, approach it with curiosity instead of dismissal.

Millennials are eager to learn, fast-paced and enjoy exploring new opportunities. Think about how you could use technology to engage your millennial workforce in this way. For example, you could introduce an online training package on emotional intelligence and client communication (something that some millennials, reliant on social media, may struggle with). Recent years have also seen the development of many smartphone apps for vets. These apps may help with recording a comprehensive history, or include realtime infection tracking. Such developments could really be of benefit to your practice, plus, your millennial workforce will welcome them with open arms.

Consider what millennials could teach you about your own engagement with technology and social media. Creating a practice or (shudder) personal brand, or at least having some form of social media presence, is important in this hyper-connected world. Invest in your website and any social media, because these act as a billboard for attracting potential applicants.

Be Open-minded

When it comes to your practice culture, be open-minded. Where Gen X and Boomers have a more hierarchical sense of work, millennials prefer open communication and constant feedback, putting company culture at the forefront of their experience. They also value diversity and inclusion. 

If you host socials, events, team building or volunteer days, think about who these activities are appealing to. For example, hosting a team building exercise during the evening will be tricky for Gen X, many of whom will have children. 

Being open-minded is also about reflecting on how you project yourself and checking your own bias. Do you find yourself poking fun at the millennials in the workplace? Despair at their reliance on technology? Roll your eyes at their ‘snowflake’ sensitivity? These are all biases and can cause you to be narrow minded in your approach. Instead, show enthusiasm and engagement. Your positivity will filter through your team.

If you’re unsure about how you come across, ask some trusted friends for feedback. This generation is far more likely to respect a leader who is open to feedback also. 

Communication

Millennials value open communication and constant feedback. They also value flexibility. This is where your communication systems come in. It may be worth expanding your communication systems by making use of email, instant messaging and workplace networking.

A conventional email inbox, although available on smartphones, can be clunky and difficult to navigate. On the other hand, apps such as Yammer or Slack allow for intuitive and portable communication. 

This isn’t necessarily an age-related issue. Different vets will all appreciate different communication methods, and varying levels of formality. As a leader, it is crucial to be agile, recognise each vet as an individual and tailor your communication methods accordingly. 

Enact Overarching Values

Living your values is one of the core aspects of successful veterinary leadership. By constantly reminding your team of the shared values, and recruiting team members who share your values, you will promote cohesion. In this way, you are emphasising the team’s shared goals instead of dwelling on your differences. Dwelling on differences rather than similarities is one of the key causes of an ‘us versus them culture’, something you definitely do not want to promote!

It all starts with values. They should be the glue that binds a team together, providing motivation, purpose and cohesion, as well as reducing chaos and conflict.

Values are tied to leading with integrity. Think about your past veterinary experiences, the leaders you have encountered, the qualities you wish to emulate. These will be your blueprint that every decision and action can be answerable to. Your practice may grow and you will develop as a leader, but your values should remain a sturdy core, to be used to guide almost every element of decision making from who you hire, what you reward, what equipment you buy, which clients you choose to do business with. 

In sum, with millennials forming the majority of the workforce, it is vital that leaders adapt rather than get left behind. The key is to be open minded. By considering the positives that millennials can bring to your practice – rather than the negatives that are too often dwelled upon – you can develop a collaborative, successful style of leadership.

Join the conversation on our new Veterinary Business Success Facebook page! Have you noticed a generational divide in your veterinary practice? How have you tackled it? If you found this article useful, be sure to check out the VetX:Leaders programme, complete leadership training so you can be the leader that your team deserves.

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