Can you manage an inclusive multigenerational workforce?

It’s not an age-old question, but rather a new age consideration. Rethinking generation gaps as generation preferences is the first step in effectively managing multigenerational teams. In fact, balancing the needs of multigenerational teams is one of the biggest leadership challenges facing today’s dermatologists.

Tejesh Patel, MD.

Tejesh Patel, MD, chair of the department of dermatology at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, is among the speakers at Sunday’s “Inclusive Leadership: No Generation Left Behind” (F034). The session will provide tips for sidestepping the pitfalls of a multigenerational workforce. From the academic setting to private practice, the session will explore strategies to build relationships across a wide span of ages.

Adapt and improve

“The ability to adapt their leadership style to reflect generational preferences is one of the most important skills a dermatologist should keep in mind,” said Dr. Patel. “The approach needed to manage colleagues may need to vary depending on which generation they are from. Dermatologists should recognize the unique strengths that each group brings to the table and concentrate more on harnessing those differences rather than expecting everyone to conform to a particular leadership style.”

Sunday’s session will offer specific tips for successfully leading a multigenerational team, including:

  • Dermatologists need to understand each generation and its importance to the success of the team.
  • Create an environment of mutual respect and acceptance across generations. For example, dispel stereotypes such as baby boomers thinking of millennials as tech-obsessed and disrespectful or Generation Z regarding baby boomers as workaholics and self-centered.
  • Be accessible as a leader so your team feels supported.
  • Relationships matter. Actively listen to individuals to help build strong, positive relationships.
  • Adapt your communication style depending on generational preferences. For example, baby boomers are often most comfortable communicating in person or via telephone, while millennials may prefer digital methods, such as text or email.

In his role as a chair, Dr. Patel’s own enjoyment for working with different generations sparked his interest in raising awareness of the challenge. He said dermatologists must have a versatile skillset in order to manage today’s workforce, which now includes baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z. Each generation has different (and sometimes overlapping) needs and expectations. Embracing those differences and building effective teams will move your academic or private practice in the right direction.

Avoid labels

One of the main challenges of a multigenerational team is the negative stereotyping of other generations, which leads to lack of respect and a poor work environment, Dr. Patel said. Dermatologists can dispel stereotypes by removing the use of generational labels and focusing on individuals.

“Every employee, regardless of their generation, should be held to the same work expectations when in similar roles,” Dr. Patel said. “That being said, different generations may have different work styles, and dermatologists should consider accommodating individual needs and generational preferences when practical.”

Dr. Patel said that leveraging the strengths and potential of each generation makes teams more successful, productive, efficient, and ultimately more competitive in the marketplace. One technique that may be effective in strengthening a multigenerational workforce is the development of cross-generational mentorship programs. These programs encourage collaboration and communication across generations.

Effective communication is an essential technique

Different generations prefer different means of communication, Dr. Patel said. For example, baby boomers are most comfortable communicating in person or via telephone, while millennials prefer digital methods, such as text or email. Failing to effectively communicate across generations will lead to a lack of engagement and ultimately is a recipe for disaster.

Similarly, team-building exercises are an effective technique for building a cohesive, multigenerational workforce, he said. Team-building exercises such as an escape room, for example, are great ways for people across generations to focus on similar goals, start to effectively communicate, and become less wary of their differences.

“We first did this about two years ago at the beginning of the academic year within our department and I highly recommend it,” he said. “It was a great way for residents and faculty to get to know each other and work as a team.”

Ultimately, Dr. Patel said generational difference is an important diversity issue that dermatologists need to recognize and understand as they move toward the future. The current workforce is in a moment of generational change. Dermatologists who develop strategies to engage these different groups will be able to harness the many benefits of a multigenerational team. By contrast, dermatologists who fail to embrace and effectively manage a generationally diverse workforce will likely be at a disadvantage with issues such as high employee turnover, increased costs for recruitment, training, and retention, and lower overall patient satisfaction.

“Although any factor that may negatively influence team dynamic could have a detrimental effect on patient care, the advantages of a collaborative, multigenerational team are numerous and cannot be overstated,” Dr. Patel said.

Additional resources:

The AAD’s Leadership Institute (LI) provides training, mentoring, and networking opportunities to help dermatologists develop leadership skills to make them successful in their careers and in life.