Millennial Leadership in the OR: The Collaborative Workstyle


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Perioperative leaders are still experiencing the challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce, including the most recent generation to enter the workforce, Gen Z.

The tension caused by the differing leadership styles of baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials remains palpable, especially as millennials take on more leadership roles in today’s complex healthcare organizations. However, the conflict also presents an opportunity to learn more about the more collaborative, millennial-inspired workstyle.

Because leadership continues to evolve from a more authoritative, hierarchical, and traditional approach to a more collaborative, transparent, and participative style, it’s no wonder that many OR leaders of all generations are still searching for better ways to manage cross-generational workforces.

Josiah L. Whitman of Whitman Partners, who along with Bevan C. Burnell, BSN, RN, MBA, Dillon Hofeling, MBA, MSML, RN, CNOR, CSSM, and Jessica Johnson, RN, BSN, MHA will be presenting their education session, Millennial Leadership in the OR: The Collaborative Workstyle at Leadership Summit at AORN Global Surgical Conference & Expo 2023, believes it’s imperative that today’s OR leaders learn to value what everyone can bring to a team and to understand that people want to be part of a solution, and not be told what to do.

Whitman notes the power of trust, positivity, and acknowledgment, “The disruptions that we’re seeing currently in the tech sector with recession-related layoffs have long been felt in the perioperative suite, only then the disruptions were called burnout and the ‘Great Resignation.’ The issue is to create a culture of positivity and for leaders to emphasize the positive behaviors of their OR rock stars.

The Future of the Operating Room

In general, younger perioperative professionals are more apt to have different expectations about work/life balance, problem-solving, and how they’re treated on the job. But how does this impact the management of a complex system such as perioperative services where the staff is comprised of multiple generations.

Whitman explains, “In a multi-generational environment, you need to look at conditions or criteria that affect all your colleagues regardless of generation, such as burnout, staffing shortages, and patient safety. However, you need to pay close attention to the challenges of the millennial generation. Because of the legacy of the seniority system and income disparities that naturally skew towards the older generation, you need to make a deliberate and intentional effort to listen to the needs of the millennial generation. If not, you risk alienating them and not addressing the current staffing shortages, and they’re the future of the operating room.

With Whitman’s extensive work with the hospital C-Suite and perioperative teams, he also points out that collaborative leadership tends to be more effective, creating a more agile, flexible, and innovative team culture. He also emphasizes that perioperative leaders must be intentional about shifting to a more collaborative leadership style and paying attention to what motivates their teams.

What are the essential steps to creating an environment where teamwork thrives?

  1. What are the essential steps to creating an environment where teamwork thrives.
  2. Establish a purpose and focus that all team members are vested in.
  3. Foster open communication between all staff levels.
  4. Recruit and retain staff from diverse backgrounds.
  5. Obtain and cultivate trust by continually emphasizing the importance of collaboration.

Whitman and his team also gathered feedback in a 2022 Mentoring and Leadership survey that offered insight into the need for a more nurturing approach to management such as, offering more reassurance; discussing the issue in question thoroughly; asking your team member how they would handle the same issue in the future; and emphasizing that we learn from mistakes, and to see them as opportunities, not roadblocks.

A Final Note

Whitman notes that attracting and hiring the best talent is half the work for today’s perioperative leaders no matter the generation. It’s retention that will take you to the finish line, improve morale, reduce costs, and increase quality of care. Join Whitman, Burnell, Hofeling, and Johnson in San Antonio for their Leadership Summit 2023 education session, to learn more about how to apply a more collaborative, millennial-inspired work style.

They’ll also share more tips and techniques for improved professional development, work-life balance, and job satisfaction to help retain millennial leaders in this age of frequent job shifting and career burnout.

Want to dive deeper?

Listen to the latest Periop Talk podcast about bridging the generational divide.

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