A generation apart

Feb 01, 2007

BABY BOOMERS, NOW ROUGHLY 46 TO 60 YEARS old, hold positions of authority as supervising veterinarians or owners at many practices. And their generational characteristics shape the work environment. Dr. Jim Guenther, MBA, CVPM, a consultant in Asheville, N.C., with Brakke Consulting, says most of the owners he consults with are baby boomers. And so is he.

Dr. Guenther points out that not all of these characteristics apply to all boomers. They can possess some of the traits, but Dr. Guenther says you shouldn't put boomers in a box. "I've changed," he says. "I reprogrammed myself once I recognized some of these traits and sought assistance. I've learned to see things from different generations' perspectives." And you can, too.

On the job

Boomer characteristics: May manipulate rules to meet goals; tend to be service-oriented people pleasers; sensitive to feedback.

Understanding differences
Dr. Guenther says being service-oriented is another way of saying "workaholic." He admits he was one once, but now he takes time to enjoy life. When he was in practice he says he was just as guilty as the next practitioner of thinking, "I worked hard, so you must, too. How dare you ask about vacation time? How dare you say you only want to work 40 hours a week?"

But boomers can learn from Gen-Xers just as Dr. Guenther did. "My mind changed as I realized the young practitioners were right," he says. "They don't want to be a slave to practice." Boomers can learn how to achieve better life balance. But it may take some flexibility.

Gen-Xer Dr. Elizabeth Kraft works with an owner who's been practicing for 25 years. "She has a certain way she likes to do things," says Dr. Kraft, a member of the Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board. "She's developed habits that work for her and she assumes that they'll work for the rest of her team." Sometimes that inflexibility, common in boomers, can cause a head-on collision with people from Dr. Kraft's generation, who tend to be less formal and more flexible.

But letting go isn't easy. "Some veterinarians feel like I did once—veterinary medicine is our life, not a means to have a life," Dr. Guenther says.

Pulling back on the need to please can lead to better life balance, too. "Most baby boomer veterinarians want to make sure 100 percent of the people are 100 percent satisfied," says Dr. Guenther. "They sometimes don't quite understand that you can't please everyone all the time.


Boomer characteristics: Optimistic; can be very driven; seem to have it easier than prior generations.

"Very driven—exactly; baby boomer practitioners view veterinary practice as their life," says Dr. Guenther. "This is all they know. It wasn't until 10 or 15 years ago that I developed any hobbies. And now I really see the value in doing so.

"Our parents grew up during the Depression; they struggled to make ends meet," he says. "They didn't have the dollars to do things but yet they gave us opportunities. So we wanted to give back to our parents and our families." In the process, baby boomers created a lifestyle that was easier than their parents'. But they didn't do it by saving.