There have been a lot of articles, blog posts, memes and you name it about the multi-generational workforce. Usually they focus on how millennials are at work, getting into a personality discussion and how they are different from the older generations (not a favorable comparison).

One of the biggest differences between generations at the workplace is about technology; when and how we use technology.  Someone like me, a middle Gen X’er, was raised with computers at a fairly young age. That said, I still took a high school typing class using a typewriter and managed to successfully complete high school, college and grad school without the internet. Compared to the 20-somethings around me, they’ve always had the internet, cell phones, email, and technology to accomplish things.  When I describe to the younger generation that I made it through all my schooling without the internet, I get a wide-eyed OMG and “how did you survive?” type of comment (like I’m Laura Ingalls or something … wait, that just makes me seem even older!).

 

Beyond Paper

The iternet became more commonly used at the start of my adult professional career; however, when I look back at my early days as a social worker, we used to do handwritten progress notes and treatment plans.  For me, the technology shift in healthcare in the 90s was:

hand-written → dictation → word document templates →  Electronic Medical Records (EMRs).

Now it’s all electronic health records, and just like using the internet to do research for a high school paper, there is a younger generation in the healthcare workforce who has always used electronic health records (and that number grows). When I talk to our customers now, the conversation about EHRs is not about whether to go from paper records to an EHR for the first time but changing from one EHR to a new one, one that better meets their needs, better functionality.

It’s not a hard and fast rule that the younger crowd uses technology better than the older crowd (exceptions abound); however, there is a subtle -- yet important -- difference in those who grew up with technology and those who shifted to using technology.  Those of us who remember the “old way” of doing things as compared to the current way, and those who never knew the old way. There is a greater willingness to try a new technology or think about how to apply technology to different situations when it’s been a part of your life all your life.  That adjustment to using and embracing technology often holds us back from applying technological solutions to old problems.  Again, exceptions abound, but it’s definitely a difference that is readily apparent. Think about your own job and your colleagues, I’m sure you can think of examples.

 

Technology in Healthcare

Technology is permeating the healthcare system not just for clinical documentation and billing, but in tools for clients to help themselves better manage and monitor their own conditions. Our systems and processes from the professionals working in healthcare have advanced and improved in so many different ways.  At times it’s mind-boggling and we struggle to fully adapt. When I used to work with HHS organizations implementing EHRs, someone always retired during implementation.  They just decided they were close enough in age and having to learn a new technology was just too much. They decided it was time to exit gracefully versus adapting to the “new” way.

I can understand the desire to just retire versus having to learn a whole new way of doing things.  And depending upon your relationship with technology, it can be overwhelming and downright scary to incorporate technology into a practice that was without technology for so long. However, this is the world we live in, and research is showing that technology is enhancing clinical practice. So how do you work with all the different ages, generations, experiences and skill levels in your organization when it comes to adopting technology (clinical, training, billing, HR or whatever system)? Typically we think about managing technology adoption in two ways:

  • How do we get the resistant people to get on board?
  • Why are we listening to these young whipper-snappers who have no experience?

I propose we learn from good old clinical practice; embrace diversity.

 

It’s a Salad, not a Pot…

We have a few courses on cultural diversity and one of them talks about the “melting pot” analogy to describe the diversity of cultures in the US.  The melting pot analogy is about how different cultures blend and “melt” together to become the one dominant culture, influenced and changed by all the cultures melting together.  The better analogy is the salad bowl; the various cultures mix together like ingredients in a salad but do not “melt” into each other.  Instead, they complement each other and make the whole salad better due to the diversity.

I would argue the same approach can be used when looking at the different people in your organization and their relationship with technology.  It’s not just the different ages (although we do see that tendency for the younger generations to be more tech-savvy and adaptable) but the different approaches for how to use technology. There is great strength in looking at things from a different perspective; experience and age can give us that. The least experienced person in your organization might come up with the most innovative idea. And then add the perspective of someone with more experience, the execution might be even stronger and better.

How have you managed to become more organizationally tech-savvy? What approaches did your leadership team take to improve the use of technology to solve problems?