Carolyn C. Shadle
Dr. Carolyn Shadle is a trainer and consultant. Her training manual, “Communication Case Studies: Building Interpersonal Communication Skills in the Veterinary Practice,” is published by the American Animal Hospital Association. She earned a doctorate in organizational and interpersonal communication from the State University of New York at Buffalo. You can find her at veterinariancommunication.comRead Articles Written by Carolyn C. Shadle
Five generations make up today’s workforce, which is surely an opportunity for tension or enrichment in a veterinary practice. Each of those generations experienced what researchers call defining moments that bonded the cohort and influenced its members’ attitudes and actions. Understanding and appreciating the defining moments can go a long way toward building a cohesive team. Let’s explore further.
The Silent Generation
Most members of this generation have retired, though some work with veterinary practices as consultants or mentors. Their defining moments included the Great Depression and World War II.
Because its members experienced uncertain economic times, the Silent Generation (also known as Traditionalists) developed a desire for steady work and income. They are reliable and hardworking, and they tend to expect reliability and steady work from others.
Since most of these folks are no longer tied to an employment schedule, you might think about asking them to schedule their visits in the middle of the day, leaving early morning and late afternoon time slots for working clients.
To retain senior clients, you also might consider your clinic’s accessibility to pet owners with mobility issues.
Senior clients are often thrifty and hesitant to spend large sums of money on their pets, but they will visit your practice faithfully and appreciate and respect your advice.
Boomers grew up in a period of post-World War II prosperity. They witnessed the moon landings and assassinations. They saw global conflict.
You might notice that boomers are hardworking and career-driven, even embodying a live-to-work mentality. As for training opportunities, they prefer traditional, instructor-led classrooms.
Boomer teammates and clients feel ambivalent about technology and prefer face-to-face meetings, email and telephone conversations. If given a choice between a virtual care visit or on-site (even at curbside), they usually elect in-person on-site.
Boomer clients are the wealthiest generation, holding 70% of the U.S. disposable income. They spend roughly 50% of all consumer-packaged goods dollars. In addition, many boomers who became empty nesters or retired have disposable income to spend on their pets.
Boomers’ experiences led them to have low confidence in many institutions. You are likely to find that many boomer clients resist your clinic’s authority. Treating clients as partners in the care of their pets is welcomed by many clients, especially boomers.
The defining moments for this generation included the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War and the spread of AIDS. On the family level, many in this generation grew up as latchkey kids or from families with a high percentage of divorce, leading Gen Xers to be independent and self-reliant.
Despite being labeled “skeptical,” “cynical” and “slackers” in their youth, Gen Xers stepped up and generally took responsibility for their well-being. As a result, they tend to “work to live.”
Gen Xers experienced the internet only when they became young adults. Therefore, email might be their preferred method of communication.
This cohort experienced 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Columbine shooting. Some people say this generation experienced the end of innocence, which might have influenced them to believe in the importance of community. They embrace sustainability initiatives to combat the climate crisis. And because of their love for animals and their appreciation of the natural world, one change they endorse is more humane care for animals.
As digital natives, this cohort is the first generation to grow up with the internet, which is integral to their lives. They are used to constant communication on everything from desktop computers and laptops to tablets and mobile phones. With the Gen Z teammates to follow, you will find them instrumental in converting medical records to digital, communicating online with clients easily and efficiently, and with a boost from the pandemic, moving into telemedicine.
Millennial clients are the largest pet-owning demographic. They are comfortable reading your messages on mobile devices as they participate in other activities. They will get your message in the middle of the day while at work or tending to child care.
Gen Z/Gen 2020
Their defining moments include the Great Recession, the rise of ISIS, the election of the first African American president, the growth of populism, increased awareness of the climate crisis, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having done a lot of remote learning and remote working, this cohort will play a key role in rethinking how veterinary care is delivered and will continue to trend toward telemedicine.
With the Great Recession in their family’s experience and the likelihood of student loan debt, a large portion of this generation likely will want a job that provides a decent and stable living
Having grown up with an African American president and when same-sex marriage became legal, this group embraces diversity. You’ll also find this generation open to using social media in the workplace as a natural progression of their digital dependencies. For some clinics, it’s a distraction, and for others, a threat. Leveraging its benefits, however, makes more sense.
Gen Z clients will find you on Yelp or in a Google search, and they will get to know you first on your website or social media. Then, they expect to make an appointment online, access their pets’ medical records electronically, and receive the bulk of your advice and care through video, texting or email. When they come for a visit, you can expect that they consulted Dr. Google. This means they might arrive with misunderstandings, but they also will bring good questions.
Many Gen Z clients will be interested in third-party credit, pet insurance and wellness plans.
A Few Conclusions
What does all this mean for your practice? First, it’s important to know what your team members want. This goes to understanding what motivates and drives the people you might hire. It also means that teammates will be wise to understand each other. Inviting teammates to share their life experiences and how they came into the veterinary profession will improve understanding.
You might adopt reverse mentoring. This means pairing younger teammates with older teammates to help them gain comfort with texting and social media or share insights about how younger clients engage with the veterinary practice
Indeed, generations work better together when inaccurate perceptions are corrected.
- 1900-1945: The Silent Generation (Traditionalists)
- 1946-1964: Baby boomers
- 1965-1976: Generation X
- 1977-1997: Generation Y/Millennials
- After 1997: Generation Z/Generation 2020