by Carol Andrews

AndrewsA recent e-mail from a reader lamented the shortage of laboratory professionals to replace those who are retiring. He believes that a major problem is one of attitude, saying that the current generation of college students share an “I don’t like school, and who cares anyway?” posture. His comments reminded me of a session on the generation gap presented by generation experts Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman at the CLMA/ASCP Conference and Exhibition earlier this year. Lancaster and Stillman told the audience that each generation brings its own set of values, beliefs, life experiences, and attitudes to the workplace. We idealistic baby boomers grew up believing that a good life comes as a result of hard work. On the other hand, for a number of reasons that include downsizing and mergers, generation Xers and generation Ys (or millennials) know that they can’t trust permanence in the workplace, and their loyalty is less likely to be to an employer.

In their book, When Generations Collide, Lancaster and Stillman point out that there are wider generation gaps in the workplace than in the past. People are living and working longer, so there can easily be four generations working together instead of one or two. With this in mind, as well as the knowledge that the demand for laboratory technologists is increasing while the supply is decreasing, it behooves those responsible for recruiting to recognize that younger employees entering the workforce have to be recruited, rewarded, and managed differently. In addition, adjustments need to be made in order to retain valuable employees, regardless of the generation to which they belong.

Research has shown that employees in their 20s and 30s prefer greater autonomy and less bureaucracy, and that employers who can create an environment that stresses teamwork will be more likely to retain younger employees. In addition, today’s employees are more likely to accept personal time over financial compensation. They want ample time for their personal lives, and employers who can offer services that reduce the stress of achieving that personal/professional balance will have an advantage in recruiting and training the best employees.

When James Fantus, CEO of SED Medical Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, spoke at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s seminar on laboratory staffing in June, he identified several reasons for the laboratory staffing problem. These included comparatively low salaries, stressful work environments and high-risk responsibilities, a threatened devaluation of the profession because of automation, limited advancement opportunities, few students in training, and the fact that the laboratory is a 24×7 operation. Fantus suggested that employers create a work-friendly environment, offer fair compensation, keep morale high, and improve job satisfaction with educational opportunities, flexible work hours, and staff participation in improvement efforts.

So while I empathize with the reader (and fellow baby boomer, I’m guessing) who views younger generations with a wary eye, I believe we have to target what makes them tick and give them what they need to become successful laboratory professionals. This includes listening to them, encouraging their personal development, offering flexible work hours and growth opportunities, recognizing good performance, and communicating the importance of laboratory work.

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Carol Andrews
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