Intergenerational teamwork in the life sciences sector: opportunities and challenges

How cooperation between the generations can succeed and what opportunities there are to question the attributions will be examined here.

Hannes Sommer
Hannes Sommer
Founder & Managing Director Sinceritas Executive Search

There are many (pre)judgements about the different generations currently working together in the healthcare industry. Gen Z (generation Z) would no longer want to work, the boomers (baby boomer generation) work excessively but do not care about the environment and the millennials are always exhausted. Each individual generation deals differently with the circumstances of a volatile and sometimes fragile world (VUCA and BANI in the healthcare sector).
In a working environment such as the healthcare industry, which is sometimes characterised by long working hours, stress and demanding circumstances, there are also always major challenges.

At the same time, attitudes towards work have changed over the years. As the ideas of the different generations on this and other topics diverge, conflicts can arise in the workplace.
The aim here is to analyse how cooperation can succeed and what opportunities there are to question attributions.

This is because generational diversity is also part of the diversity complex, which is becoming increasingly important in society. The aim here is to treat people equally regardless of their skin colour, religion, sexual orientation or age. The diversity that this creates in the workplace reflects the members of society. Precisely because the shortage of skilled labour is so pressing, prejudices should be overcome in order to allow all people to participate in the world of work.

The following generations are currently often compared with each other.


Baby boomers are the generation of people now aged 60 who were born between 1956 and 1964.  
This generation is still characterised by the post-war period and is used to working long hours and a lot. Hierarchies are not questioned.

Generation X

This generation was born between 1966 and 1980
They also still work long hours and accept the predetermined hierarchical corset. Leisure time is needed to compensate for the strenuous working hours and takes on a new significance. Nevertheless, they take a critical view of the next generation.

Generation Y

The so-called ‘millennials’ of Generation Y were born between 1981 and 1995 and were the first to break away from rigid hierarchies and the separation of work and life. They combine the two and seek meaningfulness in them. The work-life balance is born.

Generation Z

A work-life balance is a matter of course for Gen Z. In any case, they are closely connected to the digital world and can still be critical. This generation can currently only be viewed from the perspective of their youth and will continue to be observed as they form the next generation on the labour market.

Connecting elements of the generations

This leads to a criticism of the division into generations. After all, regardless of which generation you belong to, there is a certain attitude towards work depending on your age. The generation gap could therefore be based on a myth, as Deutschlandfunk reports. This is because, in addition to the age bracket, there is also a zeitgeist that makes certain topics more important. Prof Dr Martin Schröder has published on this topic at Saarland University.

In collecting his data, he looks at the relationship to work and also to the environment and concludes that all generations have similar values when the factors of age and zeitgeist are subtracted. Nowadays, for example, it is a matter of course to be able to make certain demands on free working hours because, as described above, the relationship to work has changed.

In order to avoid having to speak of a generational conflict, doctors in the Ärzteblatt also call for a recognition that the working conditions in which the Boomers and Generation X grew up were unhealthy and inhumane. It is therefore only appropriate to demand better working hours. Secondly, the concept that only one parent was the main breadwinner (usually men) still existed until the 1980s, at least in West Germany.

With Generation X, women are also working full-time and men are now also demanding time with their children. The 4-day week is therefore a step that reflects the spirit of the times and that men are now also taking in order to achieve a better work-life balance.

At the same time, the topic of different generations is also being discussed in company management and generation management (p.27ff) is being propagated. This is because there are the aforementioned prejudices that can have a negative impact on collaboration.

Challenges in collaboration

The boomer generation will make up a large proportion of employees in the coming years due to the later retirement age. It is therefore important to moderate the benefits of cognitive knowledge transfer in order to create trust and cooperation. Even before many of them retire, their wealth of experience should be utilised. To this end, the younger generations should find opportunities to listen to the older specialists. And vice versa.

For the boomers in particular, this requires an adjustment. After all, people of this age not only have to deal with a new relationship to working hours, but also with advancing digitalisation, which they were not ‘born with’.

In contrast to Generation Z, who are digital natives and have fewer reservations about new technologies. The danger lies in the fact that the younger generations appear arrogant towards the older generations and do not value their professional experience enough. Just as those older generations do not understand the demands of GenZ in terms of leisure time or do not take them seriously.

The growing digitalisation of the healthcare sector in particular means that the different generations need to be carefully integrated and taught at their respective levels. Leadership in hospitals and in the life sciences industry therefore requires a special age sensitivity.

Age-sensitive management and corporate culture

There is great potential in the diversity of generations that can be utilised by management. This requires communication and cooperation, because the group can do more than the individual, as concluded here.

Hospitals in particular benefit from generational diversity, as praktisch Arzt writes. When specialists from different generations work together, the complex problems that arise in everyday medical care can be better managed. The exchange of knowledge is strengthened and everyone can benefit from this kind of openness.

Recommendations for action

This results in recommendations for action that transformational or open corporate management may find easier to achieve. This is because a less rigid hierarchy allows the views and expertise of all employees to be heard.

In order to provide a platform for this, new structures are needed that can be supported by digitalisation. It also makes sense to repeatedly commission an internal survey to discuss needs and play through future scenarios, as the German Hospital Institute did in 2011 on age-appropriate working in hospitals.

It is also important to communicate these values of mutual consideration and respect internally. At the same time, it builds and strengthens the branding of the organisation itself.

München Klinik GmbH, for example, has a programme on equality orientation, gender and diversity, which has also won awards nationwide. This creates a major identification factor for employees and patients can be sure that they are treated with respect.


The distinction between generations is persistent and yet must be scrutinised time and again. As with other external distinguishing features, the diversity of individual attitudes is also great here.
In addition to the attribution to generations, individual age and zeitgeist play a significant role, for example in work behaviour. Utilising these differences as resources promotes internal communication and offers the company a good reputation.
Nevertheless, the differences between the generations must be taken seriously and moderated in order to enable the most effective collaboration possible. This also improves patient care and makes the company attractive to future applica