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Supervision Intervention Strategies

Recruitment and Retention Toolkit   Supervision Intervention Strategies   Managing Generational Differences [2.8.11]

Managing Generational Differences [2.8.11]

Like any workplace, the behavioral health organization should be aware of generational differences among workers, and how these differences affect management practices. While little guidance exists specifically for the behavioral health field, the field’s need to address generational issues is particularly acute.

The National Association of Social Workers, for example, reported in 2006 that half of all social workers in the behavioral health fields were over 50 years old. The association’s report notes that it will be critical to recruit new workers as the older workers retire.

This need to recruit younger workers creates potential for workplace relationships that might be unfamiliar to older, more experienced workers. As the field moves from a one-on-one care model to team-based models, older, more experienced workers are increasingly likely to be working side-by-side with younger, less experienced workers. Marla Weston, in her examination of generational issues in nursing, notes that Quality Improvement initiatives further the need for teamwork and often put younger workers in the position of supervising older, more experienced workers. She further observes that the increasing reliance on computer technology often inverts hierarchical relationships, with older workers going to younger workers for assistance in using technology.

In order to recruit and retain workers, it is important therefore to consider the unique characteristics of the four generations in the workforce, commonly thought of as: 
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1980)
  • Generation Y/Millennials (1981-2000)  
  • Post-millennials, sometimes called Generation Z (After 1990). There is some overlap between Generation Y (Gen Y) and Generation Z (Gen Z). 
As more baby boomers work past retirement age and tech-savvy millennials enter the workforce, the stark differences in the values, communication styles, and work habits of each generation will likely become increasingly pronounced. Supervisors must be ready to take on the challenge of integrating newer workers, while respecting the seniority and experience of older ones. Each generation brings its own view of the world, with varying experiences, perspectives, ethics, and values. Generational conflicts in the workplace can arise based on these differences, sometimes causing managers and employees to identify with their own generation and blame other generations for problems. To avoid such conflicts, supervisors should keep in mind the characteristics of these four generations. 

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