New Grads Feeling Unappreciated? Bridging the Vet Med Generational Communication Gap
Like other professions, veterinary medicine is experiencing a growing pain unlike any other. As Generation Z and the upcoming Generation Alpha enter the veterinary workforce, they have vastly different communication styles, including how they expect to receive feedback from practice leadership. Communicating in a manner that has seemingly worked or even how you were taught is no longer enough. As a premillennial veterinary professional, you must grow alongside these new and upcoming veterinarians to ensure your practice provides a supportive, successful, and satisfying work experience for all.
Message received? The story of miscommunication
I honestly hadn’t given the generational communication divide much thought, beyond the obvious fact that we’re not getting any younger! However, recently I witnessed an unfortunate misunderstanding between a new vet and her employer, and the interaction helped me see how differently each generation perceives feedback.
In an effort to assist their new associate with time management, the practice leadership created an action plan that would optimize her efficiency and build her confidence. They sent an email detailing their intentions and their plan, which included a temporary reduction in her surgery hours to create more time for charting and a dedicated assistant to expedite exam room tasks. In their eyes, this was an encouraging message that demonstrated the practice’s commitment to and investment in their young associate.
Shortly after receiving the email, and without explanation, the new veterinarian left the practice.
When I reached out, the recent graduate cited that her previous employer provided a lack of support and appreciation. In addition, she mentioned that the email didn’t say anything about what she was doing right.
What we need from you: Generational communication differences
New veterinarians are passionate and motivated learners, so why would a well-intentioned email filled with generous assistance drive a promising new grad to simply give up her first clinical role? This situation has led me to wonder how often new vets feel unsupported and undervalued, despite their employer’s efforts to develop their talents.
The answer may lie in how younger generations interact with the world. While millennials were the first to experience rapid technological expansion during childhood, Generation Z (i.e., born between 1997 and 2012) grew up during the expansion, and Generation Alpha (i.e., born after 2012) were born in the digital age. This, coupled with an achievement-oriented mindset and a drive for continuous improvement, has led younger generations to expect more from workplace communication, including:
- Frequent but focused interactions — For young professionals, no news isn’t good news. They consider silence as being a sign of serious problems or disapproval. Text messages, DMs, and similar instant communication routes have created an expectation for instantaneous short-burst communication and regular engagement.
- Collaboration — Millennials and generations born since have literally grown up with their own virtual and in-person networks, creating expectations for a team-oriented—rather than top-down—approach to workplace challenges.
- Recognition — Many premillennials unfairly believe younger generations have a me-first, praise-seeking, or attention-hungry philosophy. However, the younger generations’ need for frequent acknowledgment and validation can help new veterinarians build their confidence and independence, and help them persevere through challenges. If they receive no recognition, many young professionals leave one employer to find a more encouraging work environment.
- A human-first approach — Despite being a technology-loving bunch, these generations expect their employers to consider them as more than simply workers. While previous generations may have been satisfied with a paycheck and benefits, today’s young professionals demand to be regarded and considered integral to their workplace, having their social, emotional, and physical well-being needs respected and supported.
Recognizing the changes: Tailoring your next-gen communications
To bridge the communication gap, each generation must accept the others for who they are, rather than trying to conform them to their standards, whether traditional or emerging. To communicate effectively with colleagues who are new to the profession, premillennial veterinarians should strive to ensure their communication style fulfills younger generations’ expectations. Consider the following:
- Providing balanced feedback — If you’re not routinely pointing out your new associate’s strengths or improvements, corrective feedback can feel like a relentless attack. Build new professionals’ confidence and resilience by delivering targeted recognition and appreciation often, which helps them feel they are making a positive contribution to the practice.
- Celebrating successes — Sure, we’re all busy professionals but new veterinarians need your approval and praise—and maybe a cup of coffee or lunch on you. By celebrating milestones, no matter how small, you help your new associate feel like part of the team, which demonstrates your investment in their growth.
- Framing corrective feedback with expectations and encouragement — Rather than simply telling a new associate to improve a deficiency, let them know you’re providing feedback because you know they can exceed their current performance level and that you’re available to help them along the way.
- Ditching quarterly or annual reviews for more frequent check-ins — Rather than stockpiling feedback, deliver suggestions in small regular doses. When you provide immediate feedback to a young associate, you give them an opportunity to improve their skills by identifying and addressing the problem right away. Regular check-ins also help new associates feel more comfortable talking with you and seeking your support.
- Keeping feedback focused and actionable — Specific feedback yields equally focused results and eliminates confusion or misunderstanding, preventing a new associate from questioning their abilities or your opinion of them.
- Collaborating to find the best solutions — Rather than providing all the answers or choosing the type of support your new grad needs, get together with them and discuss viable solutions. In addition to ensuring that the new veterinarian doesn’t feel punished or shamed, collaboration helps young professionals take ownership of their experience, the challenge at hand, and their efforts to solve the issue.
- Using technology, but not exclusively — Although digital options may seem like an intuitive way to communicate with younger veterinarians, avoid using technology for important matters. Remember, this generation wants to be recognized as whole beings and they eagerly seek social interactions. Relying on email or direct messaging solely can depersonalize your communication and cause new veterinarians to feel like just a cog in the wheel.
Differences in how premillennial generations interact and engage with others are more powerful than you may realize. However, minor communication modifications are often all that are needed to help ensure your message’s positive intentions are being conveyed.