How to Work with Multiple Generations and Technology in Human Services

Working with multiple generations in any field can be challenging, and human services is no exception. Most challenging can be helping all employees – from directors to caseworkers – utilize technology in human services when workers have very different comfort levels using systems like case management systems, electronic document management software in the office or even tablets in the field.

comicsRight now, four generations of workers comprise the workforce:

  • Veterans, sometimes called The Silent Generation
  • Baby Boomers
  • Generation X
  • Millennials, sometimes called Generation Y

Speaking in stereotypes, younger workers, Gen X and Millennials, are technically savvy and rely heavily on technology in their day-to-day life. This transcends to work. Younger workers, who comprise 45% of the workforce, view using mobile devices in meetings to capture notes or quickly access the Internet to find information as an advantage.

On the flip side, older generations, Baby Boomers and Veterans, may find using technology in meetings to be rude or distracting because they prefer less technology-driven interactions through in-person meetings or phone calls. They tend to be less literate in technology than their younger counterparts, but have an interest in learning more.

What does this means for social services agencies?

Agencies need to keep the generational differences in learning and communication in mind when implementing new technology. Here are key strategies to help make the transition smooth.

Build on the skills of each generation to benefit the whole team

Here’s an example. A social services agency is establishing a new electronic document management system. Workers from older generations can excel on the mechanics of a new project. Veterans can provide expertise of business processes and metrics from years of experience. Baby Boomers are well positioned to serve as the project manager or coordinator because of a strong network of contacts and good face-to-face communication skills.

In dealing with younger workers, Gen Xers and Millennials make good pilot teams to try new technologies because they are tech savvy and eager to learn. They can then serve as coaches and mentors for the older generations, who are often afraid they will break technology or use it incorrectly.

By leveraging the skill set of each generation, everyone has a distinct role and feels like they are part of the team, which greatly improves the likelihood a technology project will succeed.

Train employees on new technology based on each generation’s learning style

The younger generations tend to have shorter attention spans and often prefer verbal and hands-on training to reading documents, whereas older generations prefer to read documentation and take time to internalize new processes.

The key here is to remember no one-size training will ever fit all. Technology training needs to accommodate a variety of different learning styles.

For Millennials and Gen Xers, consider short video tutorials; specific, bulleted how-to documents; and interactive, technology-based training to allow workers to jump right in.

Veterans and Baby Boomers may benefit from longer, written explanations of the new system before formal training. They may favor more traditional training methods, such as PowerPoint presentations, than their younger counterparts. These generations may also benefit from post-training tutorials to review new skills since they may not pick up on technology quite as quickly.

Keep in mind that these strategies are based on generalizations about millions of people who happened to be born during the same timeframe. Some Millennials may be petrified of trying something new like taking a tablet on a home visit, while a Baby Boomer might think writing case notes in a yellow legal pad is as outdated as a Sock Hop.

Regardless of their generation, workers who receive information, training, and support from human services agencies through a variety of communication methods will excel when using new technology.

A Call for Radical Aging

ageing

In the 60’s, we raised our voices to put an end to racism, sexism, and to end a war.  Now, we are in our 60’s and we need to dig down deep to raise those voices again to put an end to ageism.

If there is any certainty in this world, it is that we are all journeying in the same direction.  We are all going to age, we are all going to, hopefully, get old, and we are all going to die.  How we age and how we prepare for the last part of our life’s journey will be shaped in great part by the society we live in.

Do we want to take that journey in an ageist society?  As women, do we want to remain invisible, spending time and money trying to erase the signs of old age and wisdom from our faces and bodies while hoping someone will see us and/or hear us?  As men, do we want to cling to myths of virility and strength, trying to deny the inevitable? Or, do we want to be respected, even revered, for lives lived and the knowledge and experience that comes with actively living through the many challenges we’ve faced?

As boomers and seniors, we have an obligation, a duty, to make our voices heard, speaking up for and molding the kind of society that will not see us as the “other”.  Many of us raised our voices in the 60’s to help create the civil rights movement, the anti-(Viet Nam) war movement, and the women’s rights movement.  Now, we are in our 60’s, and we need to dig deep down to re-energize those voices today to create a Radical Aging movement.

Longevity is here.  It’s everywhere.  It permeates the media, in professional journals, memoirs, movies and theatre, you name it.  More of us are going to live to be older than ever before in history, and our children and grandchildren even older. The effects of longevity are tenfold, affecting our health care choices, our work environments, and our relationships within families.  You may have already bumped into the challenges of longevity as caregivers of your aging parents who are in their 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. If you haven’t been there yet, it will, I can assure you, be one of the truly life-impacting eye openers that you experience on your life’s journey.  It is a front row seat view into a future that needs a movement to change it.

We are a generation that has lived through great societal changes, some good and some not-so-good.  Some of the positive changes still need refining, but there is no doubt that we made them happen.  Some I mentioned above; civil rights and women’s rights, and more recently, gay rights.  Our lives have been influenced and molded by constantly evolving technological innovations; we have new ways of communicating through social media.  We Skype or have facetime with our families who are more often separated by greater and greater distance.  We’ve moved from an insular world into a connected world.  Once only talked about, we can now see, often in real time, how what we do in our personal lives impacts other lives, not just in our own communities but on a world-wide level.  Medical research and the attending technology have contributed to the unprecedented length of life, and this is presenting challenges that are only first being addressed.  On every level and in every walk of society we are finding choices that were never available before.  We spend a lot of time trying to determine what is available to us and what we really want.

Yet, as we celebrate longevity, we stigmatize growing older.

It is time to change the accepted language of aging. All the descriptive aging stereotypes that pervade our culture and collective conscience need to become non-p.c.   We are so much more than boomers, seniors, senior citizens, aged, ancient, crones, oldsters, codgers, golden agers, geezers, old-timers, grannies…and here’s on I just came across…coffin dodgers.  Any of these sound like compliments?  We live in a culture of age and death deniers.  Putting old people “out to pasture” is no longer an acceptable metaphor.  Neither is putting them out to the golf course, shuffleboard, nor bingo.

As we age we become more and more diverse.  The longer we live, the more opportunity we have to be shaped by our life experiences which render us more dissimilar than alike.  One size does not fit all.  There is diversity in how we age biologically, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.  We bring “value added” to society.  Yet, in a culture of ageism and denial, to be recognized for that “value added” is an uphill struggle, and it is time for us to take up the struggle.  We proved in the past that we can effect change, and we are just going to have to dust off those banners and slogans, put on our most comfortable walking shoes and get out there again.

I leave you with this anecdote from my own experience:  I’m 60 years old and sitting in a class on public policy for the aging.  Next to me is this very sweet 20-something young woman, arduously taking notes and following the instructor’s every word.  After hearing the statistics on senior health issues and senior poverty, she turns to me and says, “I’m never going to get old.”  My response is, “I really do hope that you will.

Reaching the Millennials, A Social Worker’s Plight

For the clinician or case manager who finds most of his or her caseload representative of young people, the Millennials have proven to present different issues or concerns in regards to providing appropriate interventive services.  As popular culture grew exponentially in the 20th century, its influence on this generation has presented somewhat of a paradigm shift in how social work services are delivered.

Jobs with Justice
Jobs with Justice

If you were to ask a Generation X’er or Baby Boomer some of the language or idiosyncrasies exhibited by young people today you would be lucky, if they could provide you with a definitive response.  Reason being, this adolescent or young adult generation has been raised in an environment that has been fused with technology and social networking in a manner those prior generations could not have fathomed.

Traditional versus Technology

Now imagine a social worker who works with young people today and has to be able to reach them.  How do you make it work?  As one who spent much of his career working with not only children, but teenagers and young adults, these issues were not necessarily present during my tenure.  Taking SOAP notes or completing a biopsychosocial manually was the norm and having an agency cellular phone or pager was the extent of a social worker’s technological prowess in the 1990s.  By today’s standards, it was indeed quite archaic, even for a practice that has been in existence for centuries and has adapted with such changes.

Today, a social worker would more than likely have a client or patient who communicates more virtually than actually having a face to face conversation.  This of course, is quite tricky, in a field that prides itself on direct interactions.  Part of understanding how to reach the Millennials is to understand how they learn, which has dramatically changed since prior learning styles or pedagogical instructional methods.

Much research has been presented about Generation Y learning styles and patterns particularly coined the “technological generation”.  Social Worker, Educator and Consultant, Dr. Mark Taylor, who described this generation as “Generation Next”, identified several points that pinpoint the way this generation learns which is critical to how we as social workers should also provide treatment and supportive services.

Generation Y Characteristics

  • Consumer Orientation
  • Entertainment Orientation
  • Entitlement

Understanding that this generation tends to be heavily preoccupied with consumerism and entertainment, it makes sense that social workers become familiar with this arena, albeit fashion or music, to hopefully break down those initial barriers experienced in early meetings with new clients.

Sabrena Barnes McAllister, LGSW, a mental health therapist in the DC Metro area and former administrator, states that she uses various treatment approaches to engage her younger clients.  Where she does use the more traditional journaling or even art journaling for clients who may be able to express themselves better more expressively, she conveys that a good clinician should adapt to the needs of the client.  As all social workers are trained to meet the client “where they are”, being adaptable should not be all that difficult.

As this generation tends to be more visual, the art journaling is a great way to allow for trauma victims to express themselves in a manner that allows for more depth in therapy.   A more unique approach to reach younger clients in the therapeutic relationship is allowing for them to even rap their lyrics and process them once completed. This has proven to open up many a session according to Sabrena Barnes McAllister, LGSW.  I’ve even had a colleague in the university setting utilize “rap” as a way to engage his undergraduates, or even spoken word.  As practices and modalities evolve with the needs of society, it only makes sense that the practice of social work adapt to such a shift.

In the end, in order to reach any client, a social worker must fully understand that without appreciating such age groups preferences in communicating or interacting, being able to provide effective services would be greatly hindered….

The Role of Marijuana in The Baby Boomer’s Revolution

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, lived in an era where experimentation with drug use was encouraged. The children of the 1960s who rocked out to the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and The Who, stood up for what they believed in and protested the Vietnam War, and joined the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury were part of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Now, the 1960s “wild child” has aged, and this age cohort is part of a new revolution—the baby boomer’s revolution.

marijuana-1The baby boomer’s revolution refuses to become “elderly”; they refuse to be frail, isolated, or lonely.  They refuse to have someone tell them they must grow old. Their ways are not changing, and they are living out their life as they always have…with continued drug use.

The baby boomers lived during a time in United States history when popular culture accepted substance use. The popular culture of the 1960s -1970s has resulted in the majority of this age group having been exposed to substances at rates unlike any other age group. Marijuana use has increased among baby boomers over the past decade. From 2002 to 2012, marijuana use increased from 4.3% to 8% among boomers aged 50-54, 1.6% to 7.4% among boomers aged 55-59, and from 2.4% to 4.4% among individuals aged 60-64.

The legalization of marijuana supports the baby boomer’s revolution. We are beginning to see how this group is redefining what it means to be old, but what will the new elderly look like?

Research indicates that 62% of all adults over the age of 65 have several chronic conditions, and in fact, 23% of Medicare recipients have five or more chronic conditions. These chronic conditions, combined with substance use may complicate treatment or result in poor treatment outcomes.

The National Association of Social Workers states that “social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well­being of clients. In general, clients’ interests are primary.” As social workers, where do we stand on this issue? Do we embrace the baby boomer’s revolution? Do we embrace aging with choice, dignity, self-determination and subsequently, substance use? Or do we return to the status quo?

For more posts like this, follow me on Twitter @karenwhiteman

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Does Obamacare Benefit Baby Boomers?

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are changing the definition of what it means to grow old. Baby boomers don’t want aging services the same way their parents did, boomers don’t want senior centers and adult day care centers, they want wellness centers and spas. They don’t want to be isolated in nursing homes, they want to live in active communities. They don’t want to stay home and watch Gunsmoke reruns in their moo moo, they want to go out dancing in high heels wearing Gucci. Boomers are spearheading the movement to age in place and our health care policies are following.

Obama_healthcare_signatureThe health home model of service delivery in section 2703 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the most recent federal initiative promoting integrated health care and aging in place. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H. R. 3590) is a federal policy that signed into law by President Obama in 2010, also referred to as Obamacare.

Section 2703 of the Affordable Care Act authorized states to develop a system of coordinated care through a health home. The health home facilitates access and coordination of health services through home health care, including primary health care, behavioral health care, and community-based services for Medicaid recipients with a chronic condition.

Health homes are of particular importance to older adults since the passage of the Affordable Care Act means reducing health disparities for older adults. For example, the barriers that prevent screening and assessment, and treatment among all older adults have a larger greater impact on homebound older adults due to transportation issues, handicapped accessibility, and isolation. Homebound older adults have greater physical health issues, and therefore, seeking treatment for chronic health conditions presents a significant barrier.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, brought increasing recognition of the need to consider the totality of an individual’s health and health care. This means fostering overall health and wellness by promoting the integration of behavioral health (mental health and substance abuse) and primary health care to increase access to affordable and effective integrated health care, treatment, and recovery support services.  Within this context, now is a perfect opportunity to engage stakeholders and partners to embrace recovery and all of its dimensions.

However, as the baby boomers redefine what it means to be “elderly” or “senior”, what will this new healthcare system look like for older adults? The home health model is an idea that promotes aging in place. It hasn’t been researched fully to know the benefits of this system. More research needs to be done, but what do you think, is the home health model truly of benefit to older Americans?

For more posts like this, follow me on Twitter @karenwhiteman

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Medicare

by Britney Wiggins, BSW Candidate

One of the most important steps when enforcing any type of intervention, especially in social work practice, is to examine how effective the program is in accomplishing its goals.  Federal legislation, particularly social welfare programs, must also be examined in terms of strengths and weaknesses so that the policy can be modified to better accommodate the beneficiaries that are often heavily dependent on these programs.  A program’s weaknesses can also result in its own demise if left untreated.  Exploring how an intervention can be improved is critical if any program is going to survive in the American political system.  Given our current political atmosphere and the focus on budget cuts, it is imperative that Medicare determine what areas it can improve on.

Medicare-Policy-Making-198x198Arguably one of Medicare’s greatest successes is in the overall support and approval it receives from its beneficiaries.1 Medicare has changed the way older adults approach retirement.  The financial support made available for medical costs allows older adults to use their monetary resources for other necessities.  Another reason that Medicare is heavily favored among eligible older adults is because of the portability of the program.  Regardless of where a beneficiary resides, their eligibility and benefits remain the same because the program is federally regulated.  The benefits, in fact, are responsible for much of Medicare’s glory.  It was originally designed to provide affordable healthcare to seniors and it has succeeded in that effort.  Despite the rising cost of Medicare throughout the years, the increase in the cost of private insurance has continued to ensure that Medicare is the better deal.2 With Medicare acting as a healthcare safety net, it is no surprise that Medicare continues to be one of America’s more popular social welfare policies.

Medicare’s popularity does not negate the fact that there are problems present.  While the program does help cover many healthcare costs, it also has relatively high deductibles, no limit on out-of-pocket spending, and a coverage gap – the “donut hole” – in the prescription drug plan that will exist until 2020.3 Medicare also fails to cover long-term care costs.4 While these issues do represent some of the weaknesses currently present in the program, they are not the focus of recent political talks.  Congress is far more concerned with addressing growing concern over how Medicare will continue to be funded in light of the federal deficit.

It has become almost impossible to talk about Medicare without also mentioning the Baby Boomers.  It is estimated that there are over 70 million Baby Boomers – individuals born between the years 1946 to 1964 – expected to enter into the Medicare system throughout the next decade.5 As the number of beneficiaries grows at an unprecedented rate, there is a reasonable fear that funds from taxpayers will not be able to keep up with the growing demand.  The national government will be forced to pick up the slack during a time when the country is already facing a trillion dollar deficit.  Politicians are racing to find a balance between maintaining a popular welfare program and reducing the national debt.  While Medicare is not in danger of being completely demolished, there are concerns over how changes to the policy will impact consumers and taxpayers.

The issue over Medicare funding is made more complicated by disagreements between the two main political ideologies over how the deficit should be corrected.  Republicans tend to favor cutting government spending, which could result in less federal monetary support for Medicare.  Democrats, on the other hand, favor an increase in taxes.  This alternative places a heavier burden on the taxpayer during an economic period that still finds many people recovering from the recent economic downfall.  Neither solution offers a comprehensive solution.  Rather, the two groups will have to reach a compromise if Medicare is going to continue providing cheaper insurance options for the growing elderly population.

14Wessel, D. (2013, January 24). Whose budget fix is more popular?. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

2Dugan, J. (13, June 2011). Private insurance vs. Medicare: truth in numbers. Retrieved from

3The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The Kaiser Foundation, Medicare Policy. (2012). Medicare at a glance. Retrieved from The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation website:

4Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (3, August 2012). Long-term care: what is long-term care?. Retrieved from

5 Haaga, J. (2002, December). Just how many baby boomers are there?. Retrieved from

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