Generational Influence

Oct. 16, 2014
She boasts proudly that she has never missed a day of work in 10 years.

BY Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

She boasts proudly that she has never missed a day of work in 10 years. Every day, she has been at the office preparing for her patients, proving her loyalty and dedication - rain or shine. She always shows up, even when she isn't feeling her best. Today is different. Like a dying handpiece, her RPMs are fading. She feels lousy, but she knows that there are no openings in the hygiene schedule for six months, and the office is depending on her. So, she puts her best foot forward. As a "professional," she takes a decongestant, and then she dons a mask, gloves, and glasses to begin her workday.

Before long, the mask begins to fill with mucus from her runny nose. She is sure that she is drowning, and it is getting hard to see. Her safety glasses are fogged, and her mask is wet and hot from her mouth breathing. She is lethargic and aching everywhere. Her goal is to make it to lunchtime. There is nothing that a nap (and another decongestant) won't cure. As she enters the stericenter after her first patient of the day, sweat is pooling at her temples.

That's when the office manager noticed me in my misery and sent me home!

Years later, I reflect on what I was thinking by being at the office when I should have been in bed. If I had been thinking rationally, I would have known that the meager barriers I donned that day were no match for the vicious and virulent bug to which my health was succumbing. Instead, I was thinking of the team. I didn't want to let everyone down. Where could they reschedule fourteen patients without an opening for six months? The team needed me, and I was a loyal member of the team.

It was an aha moment when I realized that I was behaving exactly like a baby boomer. Those of us who were born between 1946 and 1964 value the team above all else. To ensure that the whole team was on board, we had meetings. Boy, did we have meetings! Earlier in my career, it was not unusual for a dental office to hold a 15-minute meeting every morning, a two-hour staff meeting every week, and a half-day staff meeting twice a year. Obviously, baby boomers also like to talk!

This realization of my being "one of them" stimulated the following questions: What other foibles or traits might my generation and the other three generations1 in the workplace have? How can understanding our differences and promoting our strengths help us create an office environment of growth, synergy, and fulfillment for the entire team? How can we navigate the intersection of the four generations in order to tap into the creative potential that is inherent in a workplace with so much diversity?

We are all influenced by the era in which we live, and the era has a direct impact on how we think and what we do. A woman's life in the 1800s looked similar to her mother's life. Today, we have a multitude of choices and opportunities, and our daughters' and mothers' lives may look entirely different from our own. Not only do our lives look different, but also, the environment in which we live is different. Technology and the speed of its development create a new landscape every 20 years; that is, technological development instigates the formation of new generations by influencing the eras in which people grow up. As technological development speeds up, the formation of generational gaps speed up, as well. Only those who remain flexible and open to the wealth of opportunities will flourish.

Generational differences are displayed in our values, attitudes, and ways of thinking and doing. As humans, however, we often resist new ideas because they require us to change, and change is difficult.2 When our values, attitudes, and/or ways are disrupted, we are no longer in the comfort zone of the known but are stepping into the zone of the unfamiliar. Adapting to this new zone feels like wearing a clinical glove that is a size too small … it is tight and uncomfortable. Unlike the glove, when we endure the growing pains of change and push forward, we stretch, creating new synapses in our brains and new habits in our actions. If we make changes with diligence and vigilance, they eventually stick. Although it may take time, the changes will begin to feel right gradually as we grow comfortable in our "new skin."

All too often, however, the differences of the generations create divides within the dental office, which can wreck havoc on the work environment and the health and happiness of the entire dental team. When this happens, we experience a lack of harmony, which reduces productivity, dismantles teams, and can make the office hell on earth. Yet, it is this columnist's view that the generational divide can be bridged. By celebrating our differences, exploring different viewpoints, being open to uncomfortable ideas, and tapping into creativity, we can achieve breakthrough.

Over the coming months, Crafting Connections will examine the nuances of each of the four generations that are in dental offices today. Since communication begins with seeking to understand before being understood, we will look at what makes each generation tick and why we are programmed as we are. We will examine how the intersection of the four generations offers a lab of diversity for producing multiple ideas and solutions to ongoing challenges. We will explore how we can shift our perspectives to broaden our view and learn from each other. We will look at how we might be able to creatively enhance the strengths of each generation and work collaboratively with other generations to produce not only synergy but also innovation in the dental office.

I invite input from my readers. In sharing your own generational foibles, observations, challenges, and collaborations, you, too, can be instrumental in breaking barriers and creating possibilities. What are some of the values that you hold dear? What are some of the challenges that you have encountered with the different generations? What do you most appreciate about another generation? How can the office support workers in the cauldron of multiple generations?

It is my goal to arm my readers with information about the four generations. Tools will be utilized to broaden our thinking by peppering the information with questions and observations. We will expand possibilities by networking and trying new approaches. The result will be the elevation of the team. And, of course, as a baby boomer, I think team is king.





1. How many generations are presently working in dental offices

2. What is an uppermost value of Baby Boomers

3. What is causing the speeding up of the generational gaps

4. How many years does it currently take for technological development to instigate the beginning of a new generation

5. What is one benefit when multiple generations participate in the creative process


1. Four 2. Team 3. Technology 4. Twenty years 5. Diversity

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change in both the dental and corporate worlds. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected] .