Generational Work Styles: How to Bridge the Gap

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Gender matters as much as age when bridging the generation gap in veterinary practices. That is how Daniel Aja, DVM, views the recent sea change in the profession. 

As senior vice president of medical operations and chief medical officer at Banfield Pet Hospital, Aja leads what he calls the largest veterinary employer in the world, staffing about 3,000 veterinarians. 

“The big driving force is the changing demographics in the profession in general—a shift toward a female demographic. … Over 80% of our associates are female; their average age is 30 to 35,” he said. He noted that “the Millennial generation style,” which places a premium on flexibility, “is completely different.” 

Feedback from young team members, both professional and paraprofessional, indicates that “we have a lot of young mothers, so flexibility of schedules is very important for us,” Aja said.

Related Article: Embracing Change: Is Yours a Female-Friendly Practice? 

The Banfield Approach

Banfield helps team members integrate learning into their work, he explained, by “encouraging our veterinarians to attend continuing education locally” and by paying the fees for instruction. “We also encourage them to go to national and local veterinary meetings. We want our … young veterinarians to actually be involved with the profession.” 

He noted that this approach benefits Banfield as much as its team members: “Our veterinarians are very engaged, high-quality, and caring. Getting them recognized [in professional organizations] helps our reputation.”

Gone are the “cookbook” lists of rules that governed protocols. “Now we have primarily safety protocols,” giving guidance for situations such as administering anesthesia, appropriate pet-specific vaccine protocols, and handling dangerous or fractious pets, Aja said. The goal is “to give veterinarians as much leeway as possible … and a lot more freedom within the practice,” he said.

When it comes to mentoring, Aja said he has found that “younger veterinarians … often want the mentors to look like them” in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender. “Banfield is really big on personal development. … We’re trying to provide a smorgasbord of developmental opportunities … to help them progress in personal life as well.”

Related Article: Mentorship in the Veterinary Practice: Good for the Mentor & Mentee 

Same, but Different

“It’s really fun to work with this younger generation to shape our profession. Our future is very bright with them on board.” —Daniel Aja, DVM

When working with younger team members, Aja said, older professionals need to recognize that “they work just as hard; they just work differently. … They work to support life outside the practice, as a way to generate funds to enjoy life. They work really hard during the day but … when quitting time comes about, they’re done. … We need to embrace that and accept it. If we don’t accept it, they will not stay. I think the older generation is learning that this is a reality.

“Millennials have taught the older generation the importance of work–life balance, that you don’t have to work 15 hours [a day], 7 days a week to get ahead,” he said.

“It’s really fun to work with this younger generation to shape our profession,” he said. “Our future is very bright with them on board.”

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