Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Leaders, Bullies or Just Plain Clueless?

Kids say the darnedest things. So do certain management types, though precociousness is not nearly as endearing in people who ought to know better. That's evident in some of the responses I got to my question about what health care leaders can do to overcome friction among staff members of different generations. Clearly, for many the first step is to take a close look in a well-lighted mirror. A few cases in point:

• "I've heard leaders in a group of people say, ‘Turn up your hearing aid, Barbara,' when a woman in her 60s asked that a question be repeated. And, ‘Let's hire the young one—young people will work harder. He's just waiting for Medicare to kick in so he can retire.'"

•"When I suggested to our CEO that we move the supplies closer to the patient rooms, he told me to ask the young people to get them if my legs couldn't handle it anymore."

•"In a board retreat, the younger generation of physicians and employees were criticized for not being as committed and not working as long hours—a bit disheartening to the two gen Xers in the room (me and our CFO), who consistently put in very long hours to ensure the success of our organizations."

•"Another supervisor was planning an after-work get-together for our staff and I overheard her tell one of the new nurses she didn't need to come because she must have better things to do with her young friends."

• "He's clueless," one executive said of a C-suite colleague with a chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease. "And then he's surprised when some of these incidents end up in HR."

The good news is that there are authentic leaders out there conscientiously trying to bridge the generational divide. And there's plenty of advice to go around for the rest:

•"Managers need to lead by example and examine their own prejudices."

•"Leaders need to recognize that they have biases like everyone else and not be afraid to put them on the table for discussion, using respect and pursuit of perfection principles."

•"Talk about it. Acknowledging that generational differences exist is the first step in bridging the gap."

•"They need to build off our common commitment to patient care so we can all see we're on the same team, we just play different positions."

•"They need to stop telling staff what to do and start encouraging staff to take ownership of how we work together."

•"Environments need to be created that foster and encourage partnership and collegiality."

•"Managers need to identify key leaders (younger and more mature staff) and have them model a behavior of partnership."

•"Communication should be adjusted to be maximally effective. A generation that texts and tweets will not want to read an article or listen to a lengthy discussion about a new change."

•Conversely, "Managers can't communicate with their workers through social media alone. Older workers might not be as conversant in it, and it isolates the manager from his staff and the staff from their colleagues. I've designated two e-mail- and Facebook-free days every month because face-to-face interaction and encouraging everybody to honestly participate in a conversation promotes trust, camaraderie and teamwork."

Encouragingly, writers from a number of different hospitals described panels of executives, middle managers, physicians and staff who have come together to first understand and then work to overcome the generational divide in their own units, departments and across whole organizations.

"Our employee diversity committee has begun a series of lunch and learn opportunities to build awareness and dialogue on issues of equity, inclusion, fairness and respect," one writer related. "One of our first topics, scheduled for May, is embracing generational differences."

Like the pizza for peace summit one reader shared a couple of weeks ago, a diversity committee sounds to me like a simple step in the right direction. Do you agree?

My column, touching directly or indirectly on generational issues affecting American health care, appears in this space every Tuesday. I appreciate hearing from readers about these or any topics of interest to folks who work in hospitals. Send your thoughts to bsantamour@healthforum.com.


Anonymous said...

We're a school, not a hospital or clinic but we have found that diversity groups are imperative for students, staff and faculty understanding and for expanding awareness of our increasing smaller world.

Anonymous said...

As director of education in a hospital, I teach generational challenges. Although my time to present is limited, I try to include enough history to help the audience realize that there are reasons people see things the way they do. Many have commented on the hisory perspective by indicating they, "Never realized".
However, with an employee group that is roughly half older and half younger, the comments regarding "lack of technology savvy" and "too old" or "lack of work ethic and committment" still occur. The only real way to help improve this is for leadership to set the standard and to hold people accountable. The elder statesmen of the organization do offer wisdom and important organizational history and the younger do bring technology and different approaches. But together they can be more successful if they learn to appreciate each other by working together.

Anonymous said...

I have worked in many hospitals across the country and have found that many 'leaders' in health care are not prepared for their role. They may have been good at their previous jobs but don't know how to lead. Lack of leadership skills foster command control environments that cause staff to stop thinking. Age has nothing to do with behaviors in this environment. When one is not respected, moral drops and staff become 'dead wood' or look for another job.

Anonymous said...

Seems the demographics of the Board is often more a driver, especially when the Board is not diverse and use it for personal agendas. Of course a real leader knows how to manage the Board.

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