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Overcome the Generation Gap to Better Lead Millennials

Amid consumption of some delicious libations after the sessions at February’s EMS Today Conference and Exposition, some EMS system leaders and I starting talking about the new generation that’s entered the EMS workforce.

Most of us sipping our favorite brews were baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1960), myself included. There were also a few Generation X-ers (generally born between 1961 and 1981) among us. Together, we discussed the youngest generation in the EMS profession—the millennials, aka Generation Y (generally born between 1982 and 2000).

Dissecting a Generation
The discussion followed a typical course of what managers often do when talking about the youngsters in the profession: We complain about them.

All the stereotypical perceptions were there. One seasoned manager dubbed them “the entitlement generation” because, as is a common stigma, millennials think they’re entitled to everything. Some of the descriptive words used by us old-timers in the group to describe the rookies included “selfish,” “self-centered,” “cocky,” “narcissistic” and “introverted.”

Someone else suggested we instead call them “the T-ball generation” because of their upbringing. Another gray-haired contributor to the conversation explained that this youngest group of EMTs and paramedics, at around age 6, started playing T-ball and soccer where no scores were kept. There were no winners or losers, and at the end of the game everyone was told what a great job they did. Meanwhile, their parents celebrated every moment by capturing it on their video camera. At the end of the season, everyone got a trophy.

Basically, many people from our youngest generation of EMTs and paramedics weren’t allowed to fail or learn from failure. They’re used to getting everything handed to them immediately, so they feel entitled. They get their food at the McDonalds drive-through window in less than three minutes, turn on a television through a remote and surf 500 channels, pop their food in a microwave and get it one minute later—most don’t even know what it’s like not to have the Internet.

Being treated special by their parents added to the sense of entitlement. This could mean they won’t understand why they can’t have Christmas off like the guy who’s been on for 25 years.

They’re generally confident and “know” they’ll be successful because most have been told they’re special their entire lives—don’t be surprised when they think they should be promoted to a supervisor position after about a year on the job.

Most millennials have been sheltered since birth with laws and various safety devices designed to protect them, so they haven’t had the opportunity to experience some hard knocks.

A Different Perspective
Despite the unflattering sterotype, I’m actually very optimistic about the future the millennials will take us to.

As the brews started getting refilled, the conversation of gray heads continued and we focused on how they can surf the Web, text, browse pictures on Instagram, make Facebook posts, listen to music, eat, tweet and have a conversation with the person in front of them at the same time. That’s the way they are: They can multitask.

The newest generation of care providers is extremely smart and well-educated, and this amazes me. I play against some millennials on trivia quizzes through an app on my smartphone and can’t believe some know as much as they do in the short number of years they’ve been alive.

They’re bombarded with information every day. They probably get more information on their phone in the course of a day than a person in 1850 got by reading a newspaper every day for an entire year.

Millennials embrace technology, diversity and their parents’ values. They’re also more accustomed to having women in leadership positions.

Leading those in the millennial generation is simply understanding how they operate, what their expectations are and what motivates them. Once you have them figured out, you’re job as EMS managers will much easier.

They operate and perform best when provided with structure. Give them due dates such as when to complete certain EMS training.

You should also encourage them. Their parents convinced them they were special and they’re ready to tackle the world. Keep encouraging them to do so by preparing them for the next step in their career.

Finally, assign them a special project—don’t forget to include a due date. They’ll take it on with gusto, especially if it involves new technology.

I truly believe the future is bright with millennials.

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