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Bridging the Generation Gap for Better Patient Safety
April 2017 - Vol. 6 No. 3 - Page #20

Clinical laboratory practice is as susceptible as any global workforce to the inherent challenges posed by both real and perceived discordances between age group generations. There are now as many as four distinct generations working together in the lab (and throughout the health care system), each with unique beliefs, attitudes, and biases to their approach to work. As lab managers, finding common ground on which to foster the best working relationship between these generations is a looming obstacle that may seem to have no clear solution.

The generations most prominent in today’s workforce represent the Baby Boomer Generation (born mid-1940s to mid-1960s), Generation X (mid-1960s to 1979), and Generation Y or Millennials (1980 to early 1990s). The Silent Generation (born 1930 to mid-1940s) has largely retired and Generation Z (born mid-1990s to mid-2000s) will be entering the workforce within the next half decade. Each of these generations has been influenced by significantly variable factors, and their behaviors and approaches to a work environment vary accordingly. As a result, effective communication styles also vary drastically among each group.

Find Common Ground to Build a Team

Consider that many Baby Boomers prefer traditional means of communication, including in-person staff meetings and phone calls, whereas Gen X staff may utilize email as a primary communication tool. Further yet, Millennials favor communicating via various applications between smart devices and virtual meetings. These preferences tend to indicate how each generation values communication: perceived formality, transparency, or efficiency. Without a collectively agreed upon method of communication spanning these generations, the work environment is disrupted, creating a scenario that could lead to an increase in errors or introduce other hazards to patient care and worker safety. No matter their age, all laboratory scientists share a passion for providing clinicians with reliable results, thereby contributing to optimal patient care. Delivery of service excellence cannot be jeopardized by miscommunication challenges that can be resolved when colleagues join together to form solutions.

It is important to find ways in which employees can voice concerns in a positive, team-first manner. This concept can be built into games and problem-solving tasks with a focus on intergenerational communication and collaboration. This can lead to shared project success, a reduction in rote task fatigue, and a reduction in process errors. Finding common ground and identifying specific skill sets within each generational group invariably enhances the quality of the work environment, which translates to improved patient care delivery and safety.

In order to establish a common ground, clear methods of intergenerational communication must be established. Key points each generation should consider when facing obstacles to agreement with colleagues from other generations include:

  • Keep an open mind and accept that the best idea may not be your own
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions. Questions allow us to better understand the perspectives of others, particularly when it comes to the use and integration of technology, both professionally and personally/socially
  • Maintain an attitude of compromise and be prepared for change

As workplace skills continue to evolve alongside new technology and methods, we cannot stay rooted in our nascent ways of thinking. Maintaining an open attitude will assist young practitioners in sharing their knowledge of the latest technologies, while more seasoned staff can help integrate new and inexperienced staff into the work environment. In all cases, seize the opportunity to further develop your skills and abilities with an eye toward efficiency.

A collective agreement on the ideal method of communication should be based on the situation at hand and seek to incorporate all communication styles equally. If all staff members remain open to others’ ideas, consider compromise, learn to adapt, and embrace each other’s differences for the common good, this can lead to a successful collaborative effort in support of quality patient care.

Maria “Vicky” Langeslay, MT(ASCP), CLS, is the laboratory quality assurance manager at a Department of Defense laboratory in Northern California. She has worked in a variety of laboratory settings including St. Lucie Medical Center, an orthopedic hospital in Florida; Riverside Medical Center, a Level II Trauma Center in Newport News, Virginia; and the VA Medical Center in Hampton, Virginia. Vicky has received numerous awards throughout her nearly 20-year career, including the prestigious USAF Biomedical Specialist Civilian of the Year.

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