BY Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA
I saw my younger coworker die a thousand deaths as I asked the Henry Schein rep for help with the map app of the convention floor. Although my coworker is generally sensitive to my baby-boomer-imposed technological limits, she was clearly squirming with discomfort as I exposed my lack of skills. As a Generation Xer (someone born between 1965-81), she has naturally incorporated technology into the fabric of her competence, while my generation (those born between 1946-64) and the traditionalist generation before me (born before 1945) struggle, sometimes painfully, with it.
Two previous articles in Crafting Connections expanded on the traits of the traditionalists and the baby boomers in the workplace today. In this article, Generation X will be dissected and analyzed with the intent to bridge the communication gap through a better understanding of the differences between generations.
Other articles by Garlough
For Generation Xers, turmoil, change, and disruption influenced their outlook. What events helped define Generation X's values and philosophies? Influential events such as: Nixon's resigning, the first energy crisis, high divorce rate plus two working parents, the technology revolution, the stock market crash, corporate downsizing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Challenger disaster, Operation Desert Storm, Rodney King and the Los Angeles Riots, and AIDS.
These events resulted in latchkey children learning independence, self-reliance, and skepticism. Unlike their parents, who challenged leaders with intent to replace them, Gen Xers are less likely to idolize leaders and are more inclined to work toward long-term institutional and systematic change through economic, media, and consumer actions.1
In the dental office, it is often members of Generation X who voice dissenting views that can be the impetus for progressive and valuable change. One example of questioning the status quo was demonstrated when my feisty colleague trashed the reminder call to her traditionalist boss. She was adamant and successful in replacing the call with programmed text messaging, creating a system that was more efficient, less intrusive, more cost effective, and more in tune with the times. This victory was progressive, but hard won because her boss was not easily swayed from conventional ways.
Generation Xers' Values
Self-reliance - independent and wanting autonomy
Balance in life - rebel against work/life imbalance
Techno literacy - feel that technology is the answer
Informality - approach to authority is casual - seeking fun at work
Generation Xers were born after the influx of the huge demographics of the baby boomer generation, and they are often referred to as the "forgotten" generation. Some even refer to this generation as the "baby bust" generation, because of its small size relative to the generation that preceded it. Born in the shadow of the boomers, they feel that America's greatness has passed. There is a sense of lamenting that the long-range material security accrued by older generations by virtue of the fortunate time in which they were born is not attainable for them. The stagnant job market, corporate downsizing, and limited wage mobility that have ensued in this era support this viewpoint. Generation Xers are the first individuals predicted to earn less than their parents. This has resulted in Generation Xers having learned there are no guarantees of employment and this has affected loyalty to any one business, including dentistry.
Known as the generation with the lowest voting participation rate of any generation, Gen Xers were quoted by Newsweek as "the generation that dropped out without ever turning on the news or tuning in to the social issues around them." Generation X holds the stereotype that those born during this period feel alienated and disenfranchised, with the "X" in the term describing their apparent lack of identity. The media often portrays them as grunge-listening, coffee-drinking, flannel-donning slackers lost in apathy, who don't do their part for society as they quietly revolt against previous cultural ideals.
In contrast with the "slacker" label associated with Generation Xers, the Corporation for National and Community Service reveals they have the highest volunteer rate of all generations in the workforce today, 29.4% per year in the U.S. Additionally, Generation X represents a more apparently heterogeneous generation, openly acknowledging and embracing social diversity in terms of such characteristics as race, class, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
Education for Generation Xers has been both a priority and an opportunity, with this generation statistically holding the highest education levels of any generation today. Additionally, they are entrepreneurial with upwards of 80% of new business in the last three years being created by this age group.
Over my long career, I have known many impressive Generation Xers, whose openness, talent, and flexibility are well worth modeling. They are results-focused with strong technical skills, and are driven by a sense of accomplishment. I admire how my younger coworkers are not intimidated by authority, often questioning the dentist or manager if it leads to improvement for the practice. This questioning mindset nurtures an expansion of creative ideas and Generation Xers are catalysts for orchestrating change. They are motivated to make work fun and strongly bond with coworkers. In fact, they may place the relationship with their teammates above the relationship with the office.
As a whole, this generation prefers a flexible work schedule because of the priority of work/life balance for them. It behooves a dental practice to be creative in trying to accommodate flexible work schedules for this generation. Unlike the workaholics of my generation, most Generation Xers recognize that private time is imperative to overall health and happiness.
Clinically, Gen Xers are savvy ... they know their stuff. They are up-to-date and comfortable with technology such as e-mail, texting, Facebook, and social media. They adopt and adapt to new tools: lasers, microscopes, 3D printing, and are leaders in bringing this to others in the dental environment. Although they recognize that experience has value, they do not think this should preclude them from advancement and leadership within the office. They believe that talent and a propensity to the career speaks volumes and they resent that they may be unrecognized because of fewer years invested in the practice.
The generation gap is apparent in what other generations say about Gen Xers. Traditionalists say they don't respect experience, don't follow procedures, and don't know what hard work is. Boomers add fuel to the fire by saying Generation Xers are rude slackers who lack social skills and who are always doing things "their own way." Boomers also argue that Gen Xers won't wait their turn and spend too much time on the Internet and e-mail. The youngest members of the workforce today, the millennials (1982-present) keep words simple by saying "cheer up already."
Contrast these statements with what thought leader Professor Christine Henseler says. She summarizes this interesting generation as "a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS; a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all."
In short, Generation Xers are change agents, and I, for one, am happily influenced by them! RDH
1. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association Office of Diversity, 2006
2. The U.S. Census Bureau
4. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association Office of Diversity, 2006
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].