Dental practices not immune to generational issues

August 18, 2016|Amy Biersteker, Amanda Falkowski

The topic of generational differences has never been hotter, and looking at it from the lens of the workplace may have you feeling like a patient waiting for a root canal. With at least three generations working alongside one another, differences in backgrounds and communication approaches can lead to more than a few misunderstandings.

And with baby boomers retiring in droves, younger generations are stepping in to fill their roles. The needs and styles between established dentists and those just starting their careers is often stark. How will you adapt to a potentially changing culture? Especially during times of transition, it is critical to find ways to offer training, benefits and support that matter to each group.

First, let’s get a little background.

A big piece of appreciating the perspective of each generation has a lot to do with understanding what was happening in the world at the time they were coming of age. National and world events helped shape the way they are and how they view the world and their place in it.

With a basic knowledge of each group’s needs, perspective and communication style, you can look for ways to bridge any communication gaps and provide the support your employees need.

While the exact dates can vary depending on your source, in general, the following are true:

  • Baby boomers. Approximately 76 million strong, these members were born between 1946 and 1964 and experienced JFK’s assassination, the Vietnam War and the women’s liberation movement. Often known as the me generation, they are considered to be optimistic and team oriented. They’re often known to be workaholics, putting in hours that would rival even the most dedicated Wall Street investment banker—and may expect everyone else would approach their work in the same way.
  • Generation X. Born between 1964 and 1979 and comprising about 41 million people, this generation lived through high divorce rates and the era of the latchkey kids. As a result, many in this generation tend to be skeptical and crave transparency. They typically value work/life balance and prefer their communication in short sound bites—heavy on what’s in it for me and not too many details.
  • Millennials. Sometimes referred to as Generation Y, about 60-plus million people make up this group born between 1980 and 1994. Much of the media hype surrounds this generation and they have seen both backlash and support. Shaped in part by the events of 9/11, these members tend to be realistic and look for context in their communications. You may need to over communicate, even with things that are seemingly “known” by other generations. Consider that older millennials who were coming of age as we reached the cusp of technological change may have distinct characteristics as compared with younger millennials who know nothing but life with pervasive technology and communication options.

Generalizations may be in hefty supply, but are they valid?

Consider what you just learned and hold it at arm’s length. Putting everyone into a specific bucket can be a dangerous thing. While national experiences and events surrounding us may mold our beliefs, we’re also shaped by a blend of where we grew up and how we were raised. Consider the individual in each circumstance, while still knowing how generational differences may come into play.

Now what? What does a successful multigenerational practice look like?

So is dealing with a multigenerational practice actually a challenge or an opportunity? Look at the strengths and weaknesses of each generation, how they behave and what motivates them, and then use that information to determine how to manage any differences.

For instance, are you looking to hire? Consider how many millennials may place extreme value on working in a practice with cutting-edge technology. Does that mean the next Gen Xer won’t also value having the latest software at the tip of his or her fingers? No, but use that information to help drive your overall strategic approach in identifying where to put your resources.

Consider how things such as flexibility and variety can be major selling points of your practice. Flexibility in the dental profession may not mean working remotely, but can you look at unique scheduling approaches that can bring variety for younger dentists? Perhaps evening hours may be appealing to certain millennials (and your patients!).

What types of amenities are you willing to offer? While it’s hard to rival Google headquarters with its spas, on-site childcare and free gourmet food, what can you bring to the table that sets you apart? Some dental practices are becoming more “employee-centric,” providing on-site fitness facilities, locker rooms and video game rooms as a benefit for those millennials blurring the lines between work and the rest of their life.

Whatever the case may be in terms of shifting career priorities, determining parameters and expectations up front is critical. How many boomer bosses may be expecting more hours from employees while the newest millennial is looking forward to a flexible schedule that allows time to attend family functions? You need solid systems, job descriptions and measurements to properly manage generational differences.

The more things change…

As you learn to navigate these various communication styles, know that the more things change, much remains the same. Regardless of where you fall on the generational spectrum, one thing is certain: All employees want to feel valued and respected.

When there is a common objective and leadership is well established, the generational differences matter less and the resulting culture is what counts.

To learn more about how generational differences can affect your practice, or for assistance in addressing your dental office’s culture, contact Amanda Falkowski at or Amy Biersteker at 920-996-1350 or

Amanda Falkowski is a practice consultant with Schenck’s Dental Advisory Group. She has more than 15 years of recruiting and human resource experience and assists dentists who are looking for practice opportunities and guides practice owners in the recruitment of associates, identifying a partner and preparing for practice transition or sale.

Amy Biersteker, MSE, has more than 20 years of experience working with organizations to develop leaders and their teams. She provides strategic business advice to clients on a variety of issues, including recruitment, organizational development, process improvement and leadership development.

Tags: Dentists