• Article
  • February 23, 2021

Leadership Tip: Bridging the (Multiple) Generation Gap

How well leaders can bring together four—or more—generations of workers to drive effectiveness and the direction of their organizations.

It's a historically remarkable set of circumstances.

With members of Generation Z now entering the work force and baby boomers still hesitant to relinquish their roles, it's likely the first time ever that four generations—Gen Z and boomers along with Generation X and millennials—are working shoulder-to-shoulder.

"It is unprecedented to see this kind of generational range, and what is really interesting is it's not going away," says Jason Dorsey, Gen Z speaker and researcher in health care with the Center for Generational Kinetics. "For at least the next several years, this is going to be the norm and leaders are going to have to figure out how to lead four generations—and in some cases, five."

Understand what drives different generations

That fifth generation, according to Dorsey, is the population preceding the baby boomers—they're still likely to serve on an organization's board of directors or work in volunteer positions. Such a diverse generational span requires leaders to understand the perspectives of each group.

"It's a challenge—an experiment to some degree," says Paul Kempinski, M.S., FACHE, president and CEO at Children's Mercy Kansas City in Missouri. "All these generations have different motivational factors that attract them to an organization and keep them there. We want to make sure we're mindful of that and create a level of diversity and nimbleness in how we target and engage these different generations of workers."

Successfully bridging generations is key to meeting organizational objectives

Kempinski adds the challenge goes beyond recruiting and retaining talent—it strikes to the core of an organization's mission. "We must not only maximize their potential as individuals but create an alignment and integration to ensure we're all marching together toward our aspirational goals—even though our employees come from different generational perspectives," he says.

Understanding those perspectives also forms the basis of an organizational diversity plan—not unlike racial and ethnic diversity initiatives, according to Kempinski.

Patients and families bring additional generational challenges

Learning to successfully navigate generational differences is of particular importance to children's hospitals—managing multiple generations of team members as well as an even wider span of patients and families.

"Even though children's hospitals may only have four generations of employees, they absolutely serve five generations," Dorsey says. "Frankly, they may be serving six generations because Gen Z ends around 2015—but you've already got a lot of patients younger than that. Learning to focus on understanding the bridging of these generation gaps is absolutely critical—it's critical with employees, it's critical with the culture you're trying to create, and it's absolutely critical in serving communities."

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