I recently attended a meeting for rehabilitation managers in my community titled, “New Graduates and Generation Y: Training for Emotional Intelligence and Face-To-Face Communications Skills.” This is Part 2 in a series of posts on the themes of that discussion about the Millennial generation. Part 1 can be accessed here.
“Students and new grads [Millennials] don’t seem to have the listening skills they once had. And they don’t have the self-awareness to reflect and correct, and they often get defensive or emotional when criticized.” This was one of the central themes of the rehabilitation manager meeting I attended last week. Kids these days don’t listen, they won’t learn, and they get upset when someone with little more experience tries to tell them how to do it better. In other words, Millenials are immature and they don’t respect authority.
This is a common criticism of Millennials and one that – as an educator – I certainly understand. But I think that, when we examine the characteristics of Millennials, it it clear that the problem isn’t that Millennials don’t respect authority. It’s just that Millennials view authority differently than the generations before them.
It is true that Millennials are confident, and sometimes that confidence can seem arrogant. It can appear that they aren’t listening or reflecting when they continue to do things “their way.” Millennials are social and informal. They get along well with their parents. Similarly, they want to like their instructors and bosses and have casual, friendly relationships with them. The boundaries between “work” and “play” are blurry, and Millennials may have difficulty hearing professional criticism from a colleague and not taking it as a personal attack from a friend. Millennials like teamwork and value open communication. They believe that others on the team want to hear their thoughts and ideas, and they share them freely. When they are frustrated about a work situation or don’t agree with criticism, they aren’t afraid to express their feelings. To a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer, this way of relating to coworkers can seem immature, unprofessional, and just plain uncomfortable.
Here are a few of my suggestions for improving the “authority gap” between Millenials and Baby Boomers or Gen Xers:
- Build time into the day for communication. Allow time after a treatment session for a patient or family to provide feedback about home exercise program instruction. Schedule time at the end of the day to communicate with a colleague or clinical instructor about an intervention technique. These will give the student or new grad opportunities to practice receiving (and giving) constructive professional criticism.
- Millennials love technology – use it! Get permission first, then grab a video camera or smart phone and record a student or new grad conducting a patient interview or education session. Allow him to view the video and reflect on his performance and communication skills. Discuss what he did well, and what he should do differently next time. Again, this gives practices with communication and provides an objective way to self-reflect.
- Position yourself not strictly as an authority figure, but also as a mentor and advocate. Millennials value relationships and are fiercely loyal. This can be a tricky one – you want to be a guide, not a friend – but once you’ve established a relationship of mutual respect, you may find the student or new grad listening a little more and accepting criticism without defensiveness or emotion.
Last week, I was invited to a meeting for rehabilitation managers in my community. The title of the meeting was, “New Graduates and Generation Y: Training for Emotional Intelligence and Face-To-Face Communications Skills.” Uh-oh. I was invited because of my role as an academic faculty member in clinical education, but – with a 1978 birthday – I’m considered a member of Generation Y (also known as Millennials) according to some sources. I’d never been to one of these meetings before, but I knew some of the key players were of the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried I’d be spending the better half of the morning defending my students and myself. But I knew I had an important perspective to share; that I was in the unique position to speak on this issue as an educator and a (maybe, almost) Millennial.
If you’ve spent much time with me, you know that I’m completely turned off by the entire kids these days concept. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with kids these days or society today. In fact, I think people and the world generally get better as time goes on. We are safer and smarter than we’ve ever been. And, while kids these days may be different (and why wouldn’t they be – the world is different), they have unique ideas and strengths and skills that I don’t possess. I can learn a lot from people younger than me. And that’s a good thing. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to pediatric physical therapy and education.
Luckily, the meeting wasn’t simply a forum to vent about problems with kids these days. It was an honest, fascinating, and enlightening discussion, with many of the Gen Xers and Boomers in attendance reflecting on their own biases and weaknesses as well as some of the “differences” they see in today’s students and new grads. Here are a couple of the central themes that arose during the discussion:
- Students and new grads don’t seem to have the listening skills they once had. And they don’t have the self-awareness to reflect and correct, and they often get defensive or emotional when criticized.
- Students and new grads aren’t as dedicated to the profession. They want to leave as soon as the day is over. We used to stay 10 or 11 hours if needed to get all our work done.
- Students and new grads are always texting, playing Words with Friends, and checking Facebook. They don’t have good professional boundaries when it comes to checking and using their mobile devices.
- Students and new grads know how to Facebook and text, but they struggle with “real-life” communication and relationships.
This generational divide isn’t unique to physical therapy or health care – the same conversations are happening in many professions. And it isn’t unique to the Millenials – concerns about kids these days is a tale as old as time. What’s different this time, I think, is that some of the unique characteristics seen in the Millenials may be less about a specific generation of young people and more about a vast change in the world we live in, the way we do business, and the way we communicate. In many ways, Millennials represent the role that technology – particularly social networking and mobile devices – now plays in our lives. We may not be able to just wait them out or ask them to grow up or adapt or change to conform to us. The Millennials may represent what we need to become in order to stay relevant. And that can be a frightening prospect for many of us.
Over the next several posts, I’ll tackle these generational issues in a series I’m calling (you guessed it) Kids These Days. My next post will be about the first item on the list: students’ and new graduates’ ability to listen, communicate, and self-reflect in today’s fast-paced world of health care. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the next generation of health care providers. What do you think about kids these days? What differences are you seeing in your classrooms, hospitals, and clinics? What strategies are you using to close the generation gap?
[Creative commons licensed photo by Flickr user courosa]