Generational Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce: A cardiac cath lab perspective


Phil Regas, BSRT, RCIS, RRT, CPFT, FSICP, Tyler, Texas

Many leaders and experienced staff working in their “twilight years” are experiencing new challenges at work in the cath lab. These members of the baby boomer generation, who have been the biggest segment of the workforce for several years, are facing several challenges. The newest challenge for boomers is in understanding the newest generation in the workforce: the “Millennials” or Generation Y. After some time now of working with Generation X staff, the Generation Y staff bring a still newer workplace perspective. Knowing how to integrate an additional generational perspective and have an efficient team will be quite the challenge for tomorrow’s healthcare leader. This article will discuss how the cardiac catheterization lab’s diverse workforce, inclusive of possibly three generations, will produce more opportunities to learn from each other.

The Three Generations: Trends

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1963, have been optimistic economically, mainly due to not having experienced the Great Depression. Boomers are generally better educated than past generations; more women typically sought out a college education. During this era, more women started working outside the home while also raising children. The individuals at the latter end of the Baby Boomer era also feel more comfortable with technology. They are individualistic and have been known to have a tendency to reject authority. Busy lifestyles are common for baby boomers and many are considered workaholics, staying at work for long hours. Boomers are typically occupied with “getting ahead” and acquiring wealth.

Generation X

The members of Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976, grew up very differently from previous generations. The phenomenon of “latchkey” children arose in significant numbers with this generation. Characteristics and traits of this generation include independence, resilience and adaptability. Generation X’ers do not want or need someone looking over their shoulder. Rather than remaining loyal to their company, they have a commitment to their work and team members. Generation X’ers would rather cut ties and start looking for work at another hospital if they are unhappy.

This generation prefers a less rigid work environment and enjoys a hands-off management approach. Motivating feedback on performance includes encouraging creativity and innovation. Gen X’ers work best when they are given an outcome along with some latitude to figure out how to achieve it.

Generation Y or Millennials

Currently Generation Y, or Millennials (born between 1977 and 1998) are entering the workforce. This group comes from the most child-oriented parenting of the three generations. Parents of Generation Y have given them a great deal of pride and sense of self-worth. Members are extremely technologically oriented with the rapid perfusion of devices not seen by other young people in the past, such as cellphones and ipods. Millennials are mainly team-oriented and work well in groups. They enjoy structure in the workplace, understand and respect positions and titles, and want a relationship with their boss, very different from the Generation-X style of independence.

The Importance of Mentoring and Generational Style in the Cath Lab

Mentoring provides an important opportunity to utilize the knowledge of previous generations, but only when hospitals recognize that mentoring is a large piece of the strategic plan in recruiting, retaining and increasing the knowledge base and skills of employees. By making mentoring a strategic business imperative, there will be positive experiences with an increase in productivity, employee retention and job satisfaction.

Effective mentoring can be a tremendous time commitment on the part of the employee and mentor, and should be factored into an effective staffing plan.

Hospitals need to work on blending the staff mix in the cardiac cath lab using mature employees who bring knowledge, education and experience, with the youth and technological savvy of the next generation. Often, the mindset in the cath lab is that physician leadership desires an experienced staff. Hiring the right mix of experience and youthful optimism, coupled with technological savvy, may be a better alternative. The positive attributes of teamwork and optimism with Generation Y may offer a refreshing change.1

Understanding there are important differences between mentoring styles amongst the generations can not be understated. The approaches that work best for Gen Xer’s might not work best for Millennials. As a mentor, Gen X’ers will want to work with the leader, not for them. Members of Generation X are eager to learn new skills because they want to stay employable. Millennials (Gen Y) generally are mentored better in groups, because they work so well in team situations. They enjoy being each others’ resource or peer mentor. Millennials also enjoy having things broken down into steps in order to complete each challenge.

Generation Y’ers also tend to react differently with management, respecting authority more than their predecessors, the X’ers. Generally, Gen Y staff are more similar to baby boomers than Generation X, in their respect for positions and titles.2

Typically, younger employees, if faced with frustration and poor feedback, are more likely to move onto another job in hopes of finding his or her “life’s work,” or a more enjoyable environment. Since these younger staff members are new to the workplace, they are very much in need of mentoring. They will respond well to personal attention. Gen Y appreciates structure and stability. This generation needs to have a more formal mentoring program, and with a more authoritative attitude from the mentor.

Senior leadership will need to recognize that they set the tone to foster a learning organization. Mentoring should also exist on all levels from the top down; this ideology also allows for a planned succession of key stakeholders in the organization.

Hospitals are also recognizing the benefit of reverse mentoring, where the younger staff can, and do, have something to teach the older generations pertaining to the use of technology.

A Broader Look at the Healthcare Workforce

New ideas relating to physician alignment and managed care are coming to light that will make leaders rethink strategies. One trend is the changing generational makeup of the workforce. The Gen X “baby busters” are replacing baby boomers in hospital leadership positions. In a rapidly growing industry such as healthcare, leaders will need staff with critical thinking skills who are willing to manage issues that will exceed the demands currently placed on the healthcare system. A shift from financial capital to human capital has significant implications for healthcare leadership philosophies.

Another significant trend seen in the younger workforce is that of work/life balance. As the baby boomers were working late into the night, their children watched, and starting with Gen X, have indicated that they want a different way of life. Younger employees routinely tell of how unhappy they are at hospital workplaces with the major demands placed on them by supervisors. In our global market, we have been asked repeatedly to do more with less; our generational successors do not seem to believe this is in their best interest.

Leading the Generations

As mentioned, the effective cath lab leader needs to be in tune with staff needs. Tactics that work for Generation X’ers are quite a bit different from tactics that motivate a Generation-Y individual. While everyone wants to be valued at work, differences between generations are real and have to be taken into consideration. The 30-something crowd likes to work on their own with little oversight. The 20-somethings desire structure at work and enjoy working in groups.3

Suggestions for listening to and motivating Generation X. Tell your Gen-X employees what to accomplish in solving a problem and then allow them to work with you. When a decision involving a course of action needs to be evaluated, get the X’ers feedback on the solution they feel is best to move forward with. Listen to them and be open to their ideas. Boomers have traditionally been interested in status and climbing the company ladder as a measure of success. Gen-Xers are interested in equality and flexibility at work, with a more matrixed organizational structure. The Gen-Xer is less interested in titles or positions; rather, they want an open organization with the ability to learn new skills in the cath lab. The X’er typically does not like the “good ol’ boy” network mentality. Rotate your team through new tasks so everyone can participate and grow. The Gen X’er believes that being productive and motivated is hard to do when “watching your back.” When a Gen X’er desires to avoid office politics, they will typically start sending out resumes and seeking employment elsewhere.4

Suggestions for listening to and motivating Generation Y employees. Millennial employees typically have had interested parents who scheduled their lives around their children. These young adults value their own ideas and opinions, and do not like to have them ignored. This group seeks ever-changing tasks in the cath lab, and wants to enjoy their work. They also want to make friends in their workplace. As a cath lab manager, you should worry if your millennials aren’t laughing, going out with others from work and/or helping plan the next facility event.2

Feedback for Generation X. The Gen X’er does best with individual feedback and stimulation of their creative side. The X’er needs to be given an outcome or goal, rather than step-by-step instructions. If facing a particular departmental-wide c hallenge, one useful tactic could be to talk to everyone as a group, then individually set an outcome for the X’er and challenge them to come up with a solution. Once they are engaged with a problem, give them individual and forthright feedback.

Feedback for Generation Y. Gen Y prefers feedback in a group setting. This group likes to work in teams, and be given structure from the boss to get a task completed. Gen Y usually thrives on feedback and appreciates interaction with their manager. When working with the Y staff, get them in groups and have them work together rather than on individual projects. When giving feedback, it is better if given to the Millennial team as a whole. The team then shares the success or failure rather than one individual. Millennials also need to clearly see where their career is going, and appreciate knowing exactly what they need to do to get there.5


Leading the cardiac cath lab in the years to come will necessitate functioning in an environment that is quite different from the past. Leaders will be successful with a defined purpose, a well-developed process and refined “people-focused” leadership that takes a multi-generational workforce into consideration. Remember that just as experience is very important to any healthcare organization, younger employees bring fresh ideas and a youthful outlook. Knowing what makes the younger staff member “tick” will help leaders in determining how their team can work together to better achieve goals for their organization.

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1. Thielfoldt D, Scheef D. Generation X and The Millennials: What you need to know about mentoring the new generations. Law Practice Today 2004. Available at Accessed May 2, 2008. 2. Heathfield S. Managing millennials: Eleven tips for managing millennials. About Inc. 2008. Available at Accessed May 1, 2008. 3. Raines C. Generations at Work: Managing millennials. In: Raines C. Connecting Generations: The Sourcebook for a New Workplace. Crisp Publications, 2003. Available at Accessed May 2, 2008. 4. DeMarco D. Overcome a talent shortage: Create a Gen-X friendly workplace to retain key talent., Virgo Publishing, LLC; October 1, 2007. Available at articles/07a1market.html. Accessed May 8, 2008. 5. Healy, R. Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. Twentysomething: 7 Ways to motivate your millennial. April 9, 2007. Available at http://blog.penelopetrunk. com/2007/04/09/twentysomething-5-ways-to-motivate-your-millennial/al. Accessed May 8, 2008.

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