Minding the gap between generations

By Kristen Holshoe, BS, MLS (ASCP)

May 30, 2017

One of the biggest challenges for me as a laboratory leader is learning how to manage the widening generation gap between employees. The majority of laboratories are currently staffed by technical personnel in either the baby boomer or the millennial generation. Both groups have irreplaceable value to offer in terms of expertise, but we often have difficulties bringing these values to the forefront. Here are a few of the major differences I’ve noticed in our lab and some suggestions for bridging the gap.

Communication Styles

Our laboratory is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We are staffed around the clock and never stop. It can be an enormous undertaking to communicate important information and ensure that it reaches all shifts. Because of this, I use emails daily to share important updates, helpful hints, and assignments (proficiency surveys, competency assessments, etc.). While this is largely accepted, there are still times I overhear, “But, I don’t check my email every day…”

The truth is, much of the older generation seems to prefer more formal, detailed communication that is delivered on an individual, personal level. The younger generation has come to expect more informal communication and is accustomed to the use of technology to deliver those messages.

While I do communicate mostly via email (and I continue to encourage employees to make a point to check their email daily!), I’ve also practiced using other methods in order to try and maximize my reach. If the information I have to share is not urgent, I will almost always send an email. However, if what I must share is critical in nature, I will also distribute it via a written communication log and talk to people in person as much as possible. While this is redundant and requires a bit more work on my end, I’ve found it’s a good way to “meet in the middle”.

Values and Goals

There have been multiple supervisory positions up for grabs in our laboratory over the last several years. With each posting, there were multiple candidates – some that have been loyal employees for many years, and others that were much newer to the scene.

It’s important to remember, the older generation was taught that to gain a leadership position, the respectful thing to do is start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder. However, the younger generation are learning that this, in fact, isn’t always necessary. With the proper education and training, leadership positions can evolve in many different ways in the workforce. Working our way from the bottom up is no longer the only pathway to becoming an effective leader.

During the selection process, it’s important to discuss what each candidate brings to the table. An applicant in the slightly older generation has a wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience while an applicant from the younger generation is lacking this. Conversely, young applicants are often much more flexible and technologically savvy. Often now, the nature of the position will dictate which is the better fit.

Professional Requirements

Older generations of certified Medical Laboratory Scientists were required to pass their certification exam and follow continuing education requirements specific to their employer. However, any Medical Lab Scientists certified by ASCP on or after January 1, 2004 are required to complete a specific credential maintenance program (CMP) to renew their certification every three years. This difference between the two groups causes some tension which is largely based on a lack of understanding. While some employer-offered CE can be counted toward the CMP – it’s likely not all of it can as the requirements are very specific. Usually this translates into the younger generation needing more time and more resources to stay certified.

I would highly suggest that if your laboratory manager or director is unfamiliar with the CMP program, to offer to educate them on it. Often, the older generation doesn’t understand why we request CE specific to certain disciplines. And some of the younger generation may feel a bit frustrated by having to do more to keep the same credentials as their more experienced counterparts. Take the time to explain the program to the more seasoned techs and share some of your gained knowledge with them. If you are a more experienced techs, please tell us what has worked for you in the past in terms of more “bang for your buck” in the education department. You have a lot more experience with and your insight is very valuable.

Though there are significant gaps between the “baby boomers” and the “millennials”, it’s time we view those gaps as opportunities to be empathetic and learn from each other. Have you experienced age diversity challenges in your job? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!

Kristen Holshoe, BS, MLS (ASCP)

Kristen Holshoe is the Hematology/Coagulation laboratory supervisor at a northwest Michigan hospital. As is evident in her quality of work, she is proud to be a valuable part of the healthcare team performing complex testing as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist.

With 13 years of experience in the field, Kristen is passionate about promoting her profession through education and networking in an effort to make the career more “visible” Find Kristen on LinkedIn.