Understanding Generational Competence Related to Professionalism: Misunderstandings That Lead to a Perception of Unprofessional Behavior

Article excerpt

Background and Purpose. This article seeks to describe the different generations that inhabit the clinic and the classroom, and to suggest strategies to address possible generational differences in professional behaviors that impact the academic and clinical environment. Today's workplace differs from the workplace of 50, 20, even 10 years ago. Multiple generations of employees now work together on a daily basis. Managers may be younger than their direct reports, students may be older than their clinical instructors, and teachers may be younger than their students. Values, work characteristics, and customs often reflect the work environment that existed when each generation entered the workforce.

Position. Differences in these values, characteristics, and customs can often lead to clashes among generations. Such clashes can lead to an impression of a lack of professionalism.

Discussion and Conclusion. Professionalism can arguably be defined in many ways and include many constructs. Many individuals working and teaching in the physical therapy profession believe that there are variations in how different generations interpret and display these professional behaviors. In 2003, the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA) Board of Directors adopted a document that defined professionalism by articulating a set of core values. How each generation interprets and personifies these core values may differ.

Key Words: Generations, Management, Core values, Professionalism.

INTRODUCTION

Today's workplace differs from that of the workplace of 50, 20, even 10 years ago. In contrast to the office or clinic of the 1950s, employers are no longer assumed to be older than their employees. Managers may be decades younger than those they supervise. Industry and health care alike are no longer the vertical structures that they once were, with new employees starting at the bottom rung of the ladder and slowly progressing toward the upper levels of management.

Clinicians may have entered the field of physical therapy 30 years ago with a certificate or bachelor's degree. In addition, techs and aides, while not licensed, may have decades of practical clinical experience. Values, work habits, and customs were a product of the work environment that they entered and were firmly established. Their supervisors, however, may be recent graduates with newly-minted diplomas but little practical work experience. The values, work habits, and customs that these new supervisors and managers bring to the work place may differ, perhaps in small ways, but often in ways that lead to what Lancaster and Stillman1 describe as "clashpoints."

Professionalism arguably can be defined in many ways and consists of many constructs including: communication; loyalty; membership and participation in professional organizations; appropriate dress and mannerisms; respect; behavior toward peers, patients, and those in authority; and work habits such as time management and stress management. If asked, the individual practitioner can describe how a professional demonstrates each of these constructs. Anecdotally, it is apparent that many individuals working and teaching in the physical therapy profession believe that there are glaring differences in how different generations interpret and display these behaviors. However, in unpublished data gathered by Gleeson and May, in which individuals were asked to complete a survey describing areas of professional behavior using the Generic Abilities,22 there were no significant differences in the words used or the examples cited by respondents of different generations. Arriving at work on time and wearing professional dress were cited as important by all age groups. However, many clinicians and employers have noted differences in how the generations view these two areas.

In 2003, the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA) Board of Directors adopted a document that defined professionalism by articulating a set of core values that "define and describe the concept of professionalism by explicitly articulating what the graduate of a physical therapist program ought to demonstrate with respect to professionalism. …

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