Fill Your Staff Generation Gap

Three common scenarios and how to handle them.



Fill Your Staff Generation Gap

Three common scenarios and how to handle them.


Whether you grew up jamming to The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” or TLC’s “Waterfalls,” we all must work together to build a strong optometry staff.

Rapid changes in technology have affected the way we do business. The 9-to-5 lifestyle of the baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) is being replaced by the mobile lifestyle of Generation X’ers (born 1965 to 1984) and Y’ers, or Millennials (born 1985 to 2000), creating many difficult work environments in which the baby boomer struggles to interact with the forever-mobile Generation X and Y.

In optometry, many baby boomer doctors either employ or partner with the X or Y generation doctor only to find frustration. Generational differences create a work environment that requires acknowledgement of these differences and a game plan to address them.

Here, I discuss three of the common differences among these populations and misconceptions among them in the optometric practice atmosphere and how we can solve these problems.

1 Definition of a “workday”

To many baby boomers, a hard day’s work is arriving at the office at 7:30 a.m. and working until 5 p.m. They may even find themselves putting in extra hours or working through lunch. If you arrive in the office prior to your baby boomer staff and stay later than them, they will perceive you as diligent and dedicated.

As a result of this perception, the baby boomer staff may unfairly perceive generation X/Y doctors as lazy or lacking initiative if they consistently leave at exactly 5 p.m. and rarely stay late. Baby boomer staff may even take offense at having to close the office. What they may not realize is that, after eating dinner with the family and playing with the children until bedtime, Doctor X/Y is probably opening a laptop to chart for two hours. This doctor may not feel as appreciated as the baby boomer in the office, especially on a staff full of baby boomers.

A solution. If you are Doctor X/Y, explain to your staff in subtle ways what you do. For example, talk about going home the night before and how you did something practice-related after reading your child a book before their bedtime. Also, you can explain how much you love technology, as it allows you to leave the office for time with the family and work when your children go to bed. It goes a long way in gaining their respect when you communicate that you’re dedicated to the practice and great patient care.

If, on the other hand, you are the baby boomer, find out the whole story before assuming that your young associate is lazy and unmotivated.

2 Different ways to motivate

“Work, work, work…retire” is the mantra the baby boomer generation developed after their parents endured the Great Depression. They tend to live with a sense of urgency and believe they must earn as much as they can to enjoy life later.

Now, many Generation X/Y’ers look at their parents and decide they would rather enjoy life before they get too old. Generations X and Y are not always driven primarily by money — they tend to be driven by autonomy, mastery and purpose, says Daniel Pink in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” (Riverhead Books, 2011). This creates motivational problems in the optometry practice, as a nice monetary incentive tends not to motivate the young O.D. to work late hours and long weekends.

A solution. Finding motivation for your associate and allowing them the freedom to be mobile creates an environment of low tension and high efficiency. If you’re a baby boomer doctor, consider alternatives to paying your X/Y associate doctor more money or a greater percentage of your collections. This could include changing some doctor-to-doctor meetings so that they aren’t face to face or scheduling the associate for two longer days each week to substitute for a half day off.

3 Packaging your practice

Another generational difference I’ve noticed occurs with gifts. The baby boomer tends to take very little time in getting from wrapped package to the actual package’s contents, whereas the Generation X and Y’er takes more time opening the package after unwrapping. The baby boomer values the product and does not think about the packaging, unlike an X’er or Millennial.

Packaging can be the deciding factor in a Generation X or Y doctor deciding to purchase a practice or work as an associate. This is the overall presentation of your practice and how a young associate will perceive your practice, particularly when it comes to new technology.

A solution. If you are a baby boomer who has had limited success in attracting a doctor to practice as an associate or one to buy your practice, consider changing the packaging of your practice.

For example, new associates graduate from school using electronic medical records, making this technology a must-have for your practice. Also, consider your online real estate — Generation X and Y doctors judge a practice by its website and social media pages. You may want to consider hiring a company that specializes in online marketing and patient communication efforts to assist you in this endeavor. Also, interactive computer dispensing stations can positively package your practice.

By being aware of these common scenarios and solutions, you have an excellent chance of sealing the Generation gap. OM

Dr. Fleming co-owns Wichita Optometry, P.A., is the AOA Excel Business and Career Coach and founder of Send comments to