Collectively, they are called everything from Generation Y to Generation Next to Millenniums to Echo Boomers. As varied as their moniker and definition is the predicted impact of these young people on the workplaces of the immediate future. Today, some are beginning their first jobs, others are sitting in college classrooms, and still others are roaming high school hallways. Tomorrow they will be your employees.
They have much in common with their immediate predecessors, the Generation Xers, but they also are different in ways that will provide healthcare employers with new opportunities and challenges.
Narrowly defined as the 29 million Americans born from 1978 to 1984 (broader definitions extend the birth year for the post-Gen X group into the late 1990s, some begin the generation as being born in the early 1980s), those now straddling adolescence and adulthood offer a bright hint of positivism for the future of value-based industries such as healthcare.
"Gen Y is Gen X on fast-forward, with self-esteem," says Bruce Tulgan, author of Managing Generation X: How to Bring out the Best in Young Talent.
How your organization prepares itself for dealing with this new generation may be critical to its success in the coming decade.
"The productivity of the 1990s has been largely fueled by Generation X," says William Strauss, co-author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. "The generation behind them is going to be even better." Strauss and partner Neil Howe define Gen X as those born from 1961 to 1981 and dub those born from 1982 to the present as "Millennials."
Members of this emerging generation have many of the same characteristics of Gen Xers--they are ambitious, techno-savvy, protective of maintaining a healthy balance between their personal and professional lives--but some analysts predict they will be critically different than the 45 million people born from 1965 to 1977 (boundaries frequently associated with Gen X). Those in Gen Y are more likely to be blessed with a spirit of altruism, schooled in teamwork and fairness, and interested in renewing a sense of decorum that some believe left the American workplace with dress-down Fridays.
They are a group that was raised in the enlightened and affluent 1990s. Where Generation Xers grew up as the first latchkey kids, Generation Yers tended to be oversupervised. They are the offspring of baby boomers who provided an upbringing packed full of parental attention and after-school activities. Many have never known a time when the economy wasn't good or when jobs weren't plentiful.
This challenge looms just when some leading healthcare organizations were beginning to catch on to dealing with Generation X. What will it mean for organizations to have to juggle the needs of a new generation?
Some of their characteristics--an interest in serving others--may make them likely candidates for a healthcare industry that is starving for staff. Yet other traits--such as intolerance for bureaucracy and a fear of being pigeonholed in job categories--mean that healthcare must change to attract and retain the fresh new faces of Generation Y.
Getting used to Gen X
Since they began arriving in healthcare facilities and other industries in the early 1990s, Gen Xers have turned workplaces upside down. Their urgency and an inherent sense of alienation--having grown up in the midst of a stumbling economy and mounting divorce rates--led to a clash with the corporate status quo.
Despite early predictions that they would be lazy and uninspired, just the opposite has proved true. Gen Xers wanted it all, and they wanted it right away. They possess a new set of skills that fits the needs of the new economy--techno-literate, quick to move to results with minimal instruction, able to think with a fresh creativity--but with a perceived aloofness that tends to rub the older crowd the wrong way.
Successful organizations have learned to change to accommodate Gen Xers. At a management retreat in November, St. Louis-based SSM Health Care spent a day exploring issues related to the multigenerational workforce. Terri LaBriola, a regional vice president of human resources for the system, says the generation gap is the biggest diversity issue in the workplace. SSM's retreat brought in college students to interact with managers and used case studies to examine issues such as communication among workers of different generations.
SSM and other healthcare organizations have changed benefit packages to meet the needs of new generations of workers. They have offered increased scheduling flexibility to pull in workers who are unwilling to compromise on their private lives. They have revised orientation programs and training regimens to nurture a clinical workforce that often brings with it more classroom education but less time spent in patient care.
One reality of Gen Xers is they have little expectation of spending their entire careers with one organization or even in one industry. "It is not because I don't have loyalty to the company," says Ellis Hawkins, 30, manager of radiation oncology at SSM's DePaul Health Center in St. Louis. "It is because things change so rapidly, opportunities come up so rapidly, if you pass on those opportunities you do both yourself and your employer a disservice."
This attitude has changed the appeal of retirement benefits. Systems such as SSM and San Diego's Scripps Health say they are evaluating changes to their retirement and pension benefits to be more attractive to employees who are likely to have a short tenure with their organizations.
"Younger people are more concerned about portability of pensions and savings and things that pay off early," says Anna Rappaport, a principal in the Chicago office of benefits consulting firm William M. Mercer.
Healthcare systems have established or enhanced benefits that accommodate many Gen Xers' desire to expand their portfolio of skills and capabilities. Scripps' senior director of human resources, Jill Van Antwerp, says the system's tuition reimbursement benefit is especially valued by younger employees, letting them continue to work while they prepare for the next steps in their careers. "Our company is literally investing in them," she says.
Employers need to keep in mind that the notion of a balanced life is key for Generation Xers, says author Strauss. Younger nurses are telling employers like SSM that they don't want to work weekends or evenings, according to Steven Barney, senior vice president of human resources at SSM. "We have to design many different types of work schedules," Barney says.
In addition to customizing work schedules, healthcare employers have become adept at customizing benefit plans to meet the needs of new family types. Two years ago, Scripps added a new health insurance designation that allows employees to cover themselves and one other adult who is not a spouse. Linda Chotkeveys, Scripps' other senior director of human resources, says the option has been well received by the workforce.
"One of our primary objectives is providing as much flexibility and options as possible to our employees," Chotkeveys says.
Scripps is also developing plans to provide its workers with the ability to update employee status information--such as a change of address--or make benefit decisions through a companywide intranet, which will eventually be accessible through computer kiosks on the campuses of their facilities. "We want them to be able to have self-service to the extent that they would like it," Chotkeveys says.
Understanding the needs of Gen Y
Although successful healthcare organizations are developing some competency for meeting the needs of Gen X, businesses in many industries haven't begun to consider the generation that is waiting around the corner. "Gen Nexters aren't on the radar screen for a lot of these people," says Ron Zemke, author of Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your WorkPlace.
Employers are safe to assume that there will be some consistency in the transition of Gen X to Gen Y. Like their immediate predecessors, the next generation thrives on the emerging fluidity of the workforce. Author Tulgan, who also has written Winning the Talent Wars, says the fact that both Gen X and Gen Y actually enjoy continually shifting through jobs and employers is the biggest difference between them and those in the baby boom generation, which views this type of change as more of a necessary evil.
Tulgan sees differences between Gen X and Gen Y, but he says their combined impact on workplaces will hit "like a ton of bricks."
The changes brought by members of Gen Y and the evolution that will be required of employers to meet their needs represent a challenge. Here are some steps that healthcare employers will need to take to accommodate this new generation of workers:
Define career ladders. Gen Yers come with as much or more of the drive and ambition that fueled their immediate predecessors. "Like the Gen Xers, they are very sensitive to how a job improves and adds to their personal portfolios of skills and capabilities," Zemke says. Employers need to be able to spell out career path opportunities clearly, showing how one job leads to another, he says.
Offering broad and attractive advancement possibilities is a challenge in healthcare because so many professions are highly specialized. Creating new opportunities for people locked into rigidly defined radiation or pharmacy roles, for example, may not be easy.
Establish thorough orientation programs. Because today's new nurses and other caregivers often come out of educational programs with less clinical experience than nurses from earlier generations, there is a tremendous need to expose new employees to the clinical environment in a careful and structured way.
Tulgan recommends breaking jobs down so that new employees--including nurses--can begin doing a few components of the job within a few days of starting and then building their competencies over time. Tulgan describes this approach as "boot camp training," but says it avoids the longstanding sink-or-swim mentality that has often accompanied hospital training.
Provide mentors. Supplementing the orientation program, a mentor can provide a critical human element in helping new workers excel. "One of the interesting things about them is that they don't know much about work," says Zemke of Generation Y, which, he adds, became the first "dashboard dining generation," rushing from school to soccer practice.
Generation X, a group that has survived by doing things for itself, may have clashed with mentors because its members are more likely to want to be given a job and to be left alone to do it. Gen Y has been primed for healthy relationships with an older adviser, Zemke says. "They will drain a mentor dry. They are very good at how to use another person as a resource," he says.
Managers of Gen Y workers need to incorporate more coaching--providing employees with task-specific feedback and offering them an opportunity to talk about their development. Gen Yers rank fairness as a key attribute of their superiors.
Provide adequate technology. While Gen Xers incorporated technology into their daily life, those in Generation Y have never been without it. "Gen Xers don't have the `graft it on to my left shoulder' feeling about technology the way Nexters do," Zemke says.
Not only are they not awed by technology, they simply don't understand when companies are lacking technologically.
"Gen X and Gen Y are coming into the workforce and they are more in sync with the new economy. They are more in sync with the new workplace than the older generation," Tulgan says.
Adopt new benefits and compensation strategies. Younger workers want to be paid for performance, Tulgan says. This desire will undermine the seniority system that is in place and governs pay rates in many healthcare organizations.
Gen Y has been brought up on working in teams, but establishing team goals that equitably balance pay for performance will be a new management challenge for the healthcare industry, Tulgan says.
Foster greater sensitivity to fairness. Gen Y has been marked by a new self-esteem and optimism, but it comes with a price. The newest entrants to the workforce are more likely to unabashedly express and act on their concerns. Though they are comfortable with authority, that authority must be competent and have integrity. Generation Y's inherent altruism includes the interest that peers are taken care of as opposed to being ignored or run over.
Strauss says that the new generation, which he starts with those born in 1982, will bring about a new emphasis on decorum. This is likely to make it easier for employers to set standards on dress and conduct that will be followed.
Will they be healthcare's saviors?
Generation Y just might be the white knight the healthcare industry is looking for. At a time when the industry is reeling from shortages in key staffing areas, along comes a generation driven by playing a meaningful role and doing meaningful work.
Glenda Walker, director of nursing at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, says the new crop of students just might be the remedy for what recently has been ailing the nursing field. A veteran of more than 25 years in nursing education, Walker says she has seen a decline in student character--less altruism, more self-centeredness, less capacity for teamwork, given to following the path of least resistance-in the past 10 to 15 years.
"If the pattern does not break, the consequences can be negative to the profession," she says. But in the past few years she has seen signs of promise. In two of her four senior classes this year she says she sees greater teamwork, more altruism and more caring.
"I am also seeing kids who are turning more to spirituality," Walker says, "and that means they are turning away from narcissism and toward altruism."
Mary Wiersema, a coordinator with the Education for Employment program in Kalamazoo County, Mich., says her work with high school juniors and seniors interested in health careers yields some of the same conclusions. Wiersema, who has been with the program for 10 years, says in the past few years she has noticed an improved work ethic and professionalism in the students. "I think they are going to be much better team players because they have been taught team since elementary school," she adds.
The challenge for healthcare will be to adapt the work environment to attract and retain these new employees who--from a personality standpoint--could be an ideal match with mission-driven healthcare environments.
"The mission of companies should not be to tame the younger generation but to use them as a compass to move into the workplace of the future," Tulgan says.
The newest set of workers may bring new headaches with it. "This is not going to be an easy time for labor management," Strauss says. Along with their collectivism, willingness to speak out and intent to secure ideal working conditions, Strauss predicts his "millennials" may be more prone to collective bargaining and unionization.
Despite the continual evolution of people and the economy, it is comforting to realize that some things never change. "I think there are certain things that people have always wanted in organizations and in any relationship," says Michael O'Malley, a consultant with William M. Mercer in New York and author of Creating Commitment. "(The demand for those things) will always be there, and the companies that can do those better will be the companies that can attract and keep people."