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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs in health care settings.

~November 2009~

Generational Recap

Generational Recap

As a director of volunteers in a large institution, I am the one person in the organization that deals with people of all ages, from the teen-age youth to the 90-somethings. I quickly learned that how I interacted with the young teens was vastly different than how I dealt with the “golden years” volunteers.

Everything from recruitment and supervision to recognition and retention can find some roots in understanding generational differences. Who, among us, has not read, seen or heard something on generational traits. Often considered proponents of ageless thinking, Lancaster and Stillman believe that the events and conditions experienced in the formative years are those that determine who we are and how we see the world as adults. And though there are common life stages that everyone passes through, different generations do not approach these common life stages in the same way.

One way to determine the values of people is not how old they are now, but rather what happened when they were young. There are identified “defining moments” for each generation. Veterans coped with the Depression and World War II. Ask any Boomer where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy was shot and they can all tell you in great detail. The Boomers were in their formative years during the Vietnam War. Gen Xers most likely list the Challenger Explosion and the first Gulf War as something that had an impact for them. For the Millennials, it will be September 11. The full impact of that defining moment remains to be seen.

According to Lancaster and Stillman, the four generations break down into:

Traditionalists - born from 1900 to 1945
Baby Boomers - born from 1946 to 1964
Generation Xers - born from 1965 to 1980 and
Millennials born from 1981 to 1999

What are the values representatives for each generation?

The Veterans (1922 - 1943) are a stable and loyal generation. This generation went to work for one company and retiring some 35 to 45 years later. They organized their world in a consistent, uniform manner and valued law and order. With distinct gender roles, the generation is hardworking and dislikes ambiguity and change. Shaped by the depression and the war, this age cohort rebuilt the nation into the American Dream. Respectful of others, they value life experiences and wish to have their expertise and dedication valued in the workplace. Veterans generally value hard work, duty, sacrifice, thriftiness and quality work. As a generation who often worked at the same places their entire work life, this generation does not like change. They are comfortable about the way things have been done and see no reason to shake things up for the sake of change. Their philosophy is: 'If it's not broken, don't fix it.”

Baby Boomers (1943 - 1964) represent 45% of the adult population in the United States with 70% of women working outside the home, a first for women whose traditional role had been the stay-at-home mom. True to the times, this generation fights against authority with nostalgia for the rebellions of the 60's. Optimistic in nature, this generation is team oriented, looking for personal growth and gratification. In the workplace, this age cohort wants to be valued, with the recognition that its contribution is unique and important. As a generation who began crusading our causes in the 1960's, this generation will again crusade our causes through their activity in the retirement years. That activity could be through part-time employment or volunteer activity. This socially conscious generation will re-define things in much the same way they re-defined things in the past. With a “buy now and pay later” mentality, this generation seeks to work efficiently, but still values the hierarchical structure of whom to turn to for guidance, advice and sometimes decisions.

Gen Xers (1965 - 1980) represent a small age cohort for the United States. This cohort was the first generation of “latch-key” kids who came home to an empty house while both parents worked. The availability of birth control made these truly wanted children. Shaped by the economic upheavals of the 70's and 80's, this generation has a survivor mentality. Individually, they want to be appreciated, with workplace flexibility and a life beyond work. Working in a team environment gives this generation the family they never had as kids because of the dual-working parents. Hungry to learn, Gen Xers wish to develop and increase their skills. They like to be involved by having others solicit their opinions. With a personal focus, they live for today. In the workplace, they are willing to eliminate the unnecessary task if at all possible. It's important to remember to lighten up when working with this age cohort; remember it's not always brain surgery. Most importantly, “walk your talk” - practice what you preach, especially if the expectation is that this age cohort will comply.

Millennials (1980 - 2010) have the most age-diverse group of parents. As people put off having children early in life, this group has parents ranging in age from the 20's to the 40's. As such, this generation can be judged by the fact that they will be wanted in the job market. Parents gave this generation quality time and the result is a generation of coddled and confident young people. They have the potential to be the largest generation since the Baby Boomers and will shape trends, consumption and markets in the future. Technologically savvy, this group has the tenacity to stick it out and figure it out until it works right. With an ability to multitask, this generation needs supervision, structure, growth opportunities, and diversity in projects. They have lofty financial and personal goals and fully expect to meet them. The Millennials are always asking, “What's next?” doing things on their terms by just showing up. With a mindset to earn to spend, this generation is more likely to do exactly what's asked, nothing more or less. Born during a time of economic growth, the country made a mid-course economic shift leading to generational change as well. With the economic change and subsequent world event of September 11, the long-term effect cannot now be known. However, it is important to remember that the Millennials have never known life without technology. While many of us can remember the introduction of color television, this generation has grown up with cell phones, pagers, faxes, voice mail, and computers one can hold in one's hands. With high expectations, this generation is looking for a work environment that can be a fun place to work, with diversity in projects, which offer learning opportunities.

Lancaster, Lynne C. and David Stillman. When Generations Collide.

Next Month: Implications of generations for recruitment

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The author of the Heath Care Volunteer Programs column is Mary Kay Hood MS, Hendricks Regional Health, Danville, IN (317) 745-3556. With a BS degree in biology from Marian College and a Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, Mary Kay has been involved in volunteer management over twenty years with a zoo and in the health care field. During that time, she completed the Management of Volunteer Programs course offered at University of Indianapolis, several supervisory training programs as well as the Indiana Hospital and Health Association’s Management Institute offered by the Executive Education Program, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Mary Kay served on the Nonprofit Training Center of United Way from 1993 to 2006. During that time, she taught many workshops also facilitating speaker arrangements for the Basic Volunteer Management series. Additionally, she has presented at various national and international conferences. Mary Kay served as president of the Central Indiana Association for Volunteer Administration (CIAVA) from 1993-1997 and the Indiana Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (ISDVS) from 2006-2008. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Outstanding Director of Volunteer Services Award and the 2002 United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer of the Year Award. Most recently she served on the Steering Committee for COVAA resulting in the formation of a new national membership organization for those in volunteer management, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE). With several published articles, she is also author to two books: The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions and The Volunteer Leader as Change Agent.

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