Empowering a multi-generational workforce: Leveraging AI insights to enhance teamwork and engagement

Dr. Mary Donohue – Founder and CEO, Donohue Learning (a division of DBTC)

Cerner sponsored this session. 

Dr. Mary Donohue is a social scientist who has pioneered research in generational psychology with a focus on team leadership, creativity and management through technology. She is passionate about inspiring people to become more ethical leaders. Dr. Donohue is a world-renowned speaker and TEDx presenter, best-selling author, television personality and columnist. Her work appears in the Huffington Post and Financial Post. She is also an Adjunct Professor, Graduate School of Management, Dalhousie University. She began the session asking the audience a number of questions:

Who would like more me time or focus time? How many of you feel like you’re under stress at work (e.g. going to too many meetings or cannot understand all your emails). How many of you would like to make more money?

She tells the audience they cannot reach these goals unless they change how you communicate digitally. Less than 20% of what people communicate online is being understood…80% is an assumption, and that prevents people from saving time. This means that 80% of the population today is digitally disabled.

Dr. Donohue asked the audience how their day was going while giving a speech. Most people responded with a one-word answer. She was pleased because this was an appropriate response; people knew that she could not respond to them because she was giving a speech. She tells the audience that they need to answer 40% of their emails. Most people are spending over half of our day in meetings. The mammalian brain does not have the digital social cues to respond to digital communication because it is relatively new. It has only been in use since 2007, so people are still learning.

She tells the audience that she has tools to help save time, make money and alleviate stress. She has tested the data with 27,000 people for a 95% confidence level, 3% margin of error and 10% response rate. The qualitative portion was tested with 7,000 documents coded and triangulated the data with over 325 academic articles. This system of communication strategies works because it has been tested, peer reviewed and it is simple.

Our brains have digital static in them. There is a crisis; the messages sent are not the messages received.

When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, he said that it would revolutionize the world. It transformed an auditory culture into a culture based on text messaging, likes, hearts and virtual meetings. Technology has changed this because of assumed messaging (communication disconnects).

Dr. Donohue shared an example of miscommunication over text with her husband. She told him about her flight arrangements via text and he told her that he had a previous commitment. She texted back, in capital letters, “really?” thinking that he would understand the sarcasm and pick her up. He did not come, and she was wet and frustrated because this situation could have been avoided if they had spoken to each other on the phone. This phenomenon is called disengagement rates by Gallup; currently disengagement rates are 80% and rising. This results in lack of trust and collaboration. The average worker spends over 40 hours answering emails and participating in meetings before they can begin doing their actual work. People become tired.

We can get rid of the digital static by creating new communication patters. There are four generations currently in the workplace, and each worker learns their communication patterns when they are in school (kindergarten to grade eight). These generational cohorts are categorized as Boomers (1945-1960), Generation X (1960-1980), Generation Y/Millennials (1980-2000) and Generation Z (2000-Present).

Once employees begin to understand and deploy these patterns, they can save 10% more time because they do not need to repeat themselves in meetings and emails. This is called digital emotional intelligence (DEQ). An individual’s share default means how people think in terms of using digital tools. Millennials and Generation Z have an attention span of seven minutes (the length of an average YouTube video). Generation Z’s attention spans will be even shorter at three minutes. Boomers and Generation X have an attention span of 22 minutes for a learning pattern.

Learning changed a great deal in in the 1980s due to trickle down economics. This resulted in classrooms with more students. Desks were grouped together to have strong students teach the weak students. It created democratic learners and democratic people, which resulted in the shared economy. Boomers and Generation X learned in rows. Boomers had a truant officer. Millennials and Generation Z were the first children of working parents; these employees crave experiences together even more than money. Generation X is the smallest cohort in the workforce; they have a tendency to be scrappy and tenacious.

Millennials and Generation Z do not anticipate feedback in an annual review. They get feedback constantly through their phones. These two generations share. Boomers and Generation X were trained to do the work, then share it with others. Millennials grew up with calendars on the wall indicating where everyone was supposed to go at what time; they were the first generation of latchkey kids. This is the most coached generation ever; the calendar dedicates their life. Boomers and Generation X will always say, “I’m busy,” when you ask them how they are. Being busy is viewed as a badge of honour because they can demonstrate to their bosses how busy they are and how much they matter.

Millennials love new technology and are comfortable using it. Boomers and Generation X do not have time to learn new things. They also saw technology fail on a spectacular level (e.g. the fail of the Challenger and the danger of using “shift” and “F7” to delete files). For people who will be onboarding new employees in a few years, they will need to be told to use it for talking purposes because this is a foreign concept. When Millennials are working with Boomers and/or Generation X and have a communication misunderstanding, the best response is, “I will give you a deck, and then we’ll talk about it.” Millennials will text clients while Baby Boomers and Generation X feel that texting is too intimate, and prefer to use email.

The audience took a survey to measure their digital emotional intelligence (DEQ). It is important to understand that everyone, based on their age, processes language through digital information differently. The share default and task default is how each cohort learns. Here is how each generation reacts to digital information.

Boomers have a task default style of learning. They are great mentors, excel at build teams, they work on legacy, they do not like being left alone digitally and they are triggered by the phrase “you don’t know.” Radio and television is how they heard the news; they are auditory learners.

Generation X members also have a task default style of learning. They are visual learners focused on tasks. They are between two huge cohorts, and they are brilliant at strategy. They use technology for a sense of independence to get the job done when it is convenient for them. They attend the most meetings of all generations, and they are rushing through things. Their downfalls are too many assumptions and can lose their patience. The phrase that triggers them is, “no, you won’t,” because they entered the workforce during a major recession. They are used to doing more with less, and are extremely resilient.  

Generation Y (Millennials) have a share default style of learning. They have had to adapt to situations. They were taught in teams because it is less expensive to teach groups than individuals. Everything they do is shared. They have been online since grade five; they are the first generation to have their whole lives online. They are the first generation with two parents working. They become stressed when asked, “What do you think?” because that is what their parents asked them.

Generation Z also have a share default style of learning. They are the most interesting generation ever. Lockdowns were the very first concept they were taught; they learned to think that a bad person would come to the school and hurt them. This generation has the most in common with their grandparents’ parents, the Great Generation. They will do anything that is asked, and they will hide from technology but can find anything they need to. Technology has been their soother since they were very little. If these children were fussy, they were handed phones to allow parents an opportunity to speak to each other. The words that cause them distress is, “no Internet.” However, if you tell this generation that not using their phones is a rule, they will respect and abide by it. They will respond favourably when asked, “What do you believe?” because they are the most moralistic generation walking into the workforce today.

Dr. Donohue discussed some common issues in the workforce and offered the following solutions:

·        Frequently moving jobs (lack of loyalty) – Generation Z expects people to assist in their professional development and time off. In 2008, there was a depression and a lack of trust affected this generation. Generation X and Y are motivated by money to build a pension and a legacy; vacation time is not as enticing to them

·        Improving your digital intelligence – be aware of your audience. For example, if you are writing a letter, find out the age of the recipient using LinkedIn because each generation of workers will respond differently and have different expectations. You need to keep their attention (e.g. do not send an email to Generation Z because they do not trust email; they are more receptive to a text)

In healthcare, how do we use this information to communicate with patients? Dr. Donohue advocates to use tools as they are intended, and to keep messages clear and concise. For example, physicians book longer appointment times with patients who are Baby Boomers than Generation Y to offer sufficient time to each patient.

How do you look at Baby Boomers who have become conservative over time? Each generation is aging differently. For example, Millennials are different decisions than many of their parents. They are choosing to have smaller families, not to get married and not to buy homes.

Which generation will solve the excessive meetings and emails issue? Dr. Donohue said people who have knowledge of digital tools and collaboration can solve this problem. People will save time and money by having a higher level of digital intelligence will be successful. When Mr. Picard asked for a universal approach to solve this issue, Dr. Donohue recommended short responses that align with the digital culture of the organization. She recommends a tip from the Amazon culture, which includes building time into the meeting to read the agenda. Prior to meetings, most people will not take the time to read the agenda.

As a leader or supervisor with staff, how do I treat each employee fairly? Dr. Donohue recommends catering the communication style and tools to the primary capital (the largest group of people) and secondary capital (the second largest group of please). For example, the Globe and Mail has a large number of Baby Boomers. Meetings, emails and ongoing reviews will resonate with this group. Communication is not an assumed skill; it is a learned behaviour. Organizations should retrain employees by giving clear expectations to help them understand how to communicate in the company’s culture.

Mr. Alain Doucet, President of the Canadian College of Health Leaders, thanked all of the sponsors, conference committee members, volunteers and attendees for their support and attendance. In closing, health leaders, care providers and patients must continue to look forward with a keen focus on achieving excellence. He hoped that the lessons learned during the conference help to improve the current system and nourished participants’ ideas.





Report written by: Julie Ferlisi, The Write Approach Professional Services

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