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Leading a multigenerational workforce

Khalid Turk, CHIO of Santa Clara County shares insights on leveraging a multigenerational workforce at the 2023 CHIME Fall Forum.
By admin
Dec 14, 2023, 3:57 PM

“A Boomer in pop culture has a connotation of somebody who is stubborn, who is closed-minded, and someone who just doesn’t get it,” Khalid Turk, Chief Healthcare Information Officer, County of Santa Clara, shared during his presentation “Leading a Multigenerational Workforce” at the CHIME 2023 Fall Forum. “We have to change that. We can’t be stubborn when working with a multigenerational workforce.” 

Drawing from his extensive 25-year tenure in the healthcare industry, Turk, who prior to his IT role for Santa Clara County was instrumental in implementing EPIC EHR systems for various organizations, underscored the value of soft skills in project management.   

He argued that while technical knowledge and certifications are important, they only form part of the equation. The real challenge, and what distinguishes exceptional project managers, lies in their ability to navigate and manage human interactions effectively.  

“Everybody can be PMP, everybody can learn the discipline. But when it comes to human interactions, that’s where the challenge is,” Turk said.  

Turk – who has also researched and written a book on leading a multigenerational workforce – argues that the ability to leverage the assets of a multigenerational workforce can improve innovation, lead to better patient outcomes, and ultimately improve a healthcare organization’s bottom line.  

Current generations in the workplace

  • Traditionalists: (Born before 1945) “When you’re talking about the labor force in America, traditional still starts here.” 
  • Boomers: (1946-1964) “The most famous one,” Turk says, and they’re known for being stubborn, closed, and the most respectful of authority.  
  • Generation X: (1965-1980) Generation X is the predominant workforce right now in America at about 37%.” 
  • Millennials: (1981-1996) “The most famous generation for a little while, or infamous,” Turk shares. “We thought, this is somebody that doesn’t have work ethic, they just want to get through the day, which I strongly believe is not true. They are just a different generation. They want to talk differently, they want to communicate differently, they want to engage differently, they are as conscientious like any other generation.”
  • Generation Z: (1997-2012) “And last, but not the least, the Gen Z generation that everybody talks about. At the oldest age range, they could be coming out of college, maybe at work for a year, and at the youngest age, they might be going somewhere in the high school. Right now in Gen Z, we don’t have so many successful entrepreneurs, and technologists like we have in Gen millennial or Gen X. But they are still important.“ Turk shared that by 2025, Gen Z will be the second largest workforce in your team. 

“My kids are all Gen Z and are different from each other. Trying to understand your workforce with the generational lens is not about putting them in just one box. But there are certain attributes which are very, very specific to the generation. “ 

Communication and leadership styles should be tailored to meet the needs of each generation. For example, he pointed out that Gen Z, being digital natives, crave instant feedback and communication, differing markedly from the more patient and hierarchical Traditionalists and Baby Boomers. 

“They won’t read a memo if you write them on a paper, but they’ll respond to your text. They will never pick up your phone but if you call a video call, probably they will answer but they will always be available the text. Why?” Turk asked. “They have developed a certain persona and that persona gets transferred to the workplace. Talking with them in person may not be the best way to communicate.”  

Keys to leading a multigenerational workforce  

Turk identifies key areas that need to be understood and addressed in the context of intergenerational differences in the workplace:  

  • Adopt effective communication and feedback 

“Communication is the most important thing that makes or breaks teams,” says Turk. This involves not just the style but also the substance of communication. Different generations may have varied expectations and responses to communication styles and content. For example, while Baby Boomers and Traditionalists may respect authority and hierarchy, and thus accept directives without much questioning, Millennials and Gen Z workers often seek a logical or value-based explanation for directives. They are not necessarily being insubordinate; they simply have a different approach to workplace communication and decision-making. 

“For example, if you had the baby boomers or traditionalists, just telling them that ‘This December, everybody’s coming to [the office] four days a week,’ that’s good enough. They respect authority, they respect hierarchy, they respect structure. But if you have Millennials or Gen Zs, that is not a good enough. Their first question is going to be ‘Why? Why do I have to go? I mean, look at my numbers.’”

  • Understand and respect different motivations and priorities 

Turk touches upon the differing values between generations, especially regarding material possessions versus experiences.  

“One thing that comes to my mind here, you may have heard this notion that people in older generations believed in possessions. ‘I’m going to have five cars, I’m going to have the biggest house, I’m going to have this, I’m going to have that,’” Turk said. “And there’s other generations, like millennials and Gen Z who say that, well, I’m gonna go for experience, I don’t need the house, I can live in a rental apartment.” 

This shift in priorities reflects a broader cultural change and requires understanding and moderation in perspectives. Younger generations, particularly Gen Z, are described as valuing their time and seeking a balance between work and personal life. This contrasts with older generations, who might have placed more emphasis on traditional work ethics. Understanding these shifts is crucial for effective leadership and team management. 

“So when you talk about work values and expectations, [young] people want to value their time and entertainment,” Turk said. 

Benefits of a multigenerational workforce 

When a team comprises individuals from various generations, it naturally combines a diverse range of experiences, perspectives, and skill sets. This diversity fosters a creative environment where innovative ideas can flourish. Older generations might bring tried-and-tested methods and a wealth of experience, while younger generations can contribute fresh, tech-savvy approaches and novel perspectives. This blend of traditional and modern thinking often leads to groundbreaking solutions and creative problem-solving strategies. 

Diversity across the spectrum, be it age, gender, race, whatever else actually directly impacts your bottom line. Research from Forbes, showed that diverse groups, where age diversity is included, were more productive. Their innovation was 19% more than the non-diverse groups, which actually translates back into your bottom line. So it is good for your business, and good for your clients.”  

Another key advantage of a multi-generational workforce, especially pertinent in healthcare, is that it becomes more representative of the patient population. Having a workforce that mirrors this diversity can greatly enhance the understanding and empathy within healthcare services. Each generation brings its own insights into the needs and preferences of their age group, leading to more personalized and effective care.  

“Your team needs to reflect your customers. Healthcare is the most diverse customer base; you can have a newborn, and you can have a 99-year-old and anybody in between. No other industry works like that.” 

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