Multigenerational workforces have always powered healthcare. No organization consists solely of older workers or younger ones, and that's a good thing because each generation possesses unique strengths and differences.
Today's savvy healthcare organizations recognize that they can elevate patient outcomes, boost productivity and even reduce the cost of care by cultivating generational diversity to create a robust organizational culture.
“Millennials are getting a lot of attention these days,” said Jennifer Stewart, a managing director at The Advisory Board. “But interestingly, the three big drivers that result in engaged employees are the same for all three generations: belief in the organizational mission, belief that the organization provides excellent care to the patient, and knowing their ideas and suggestions are valued by the organization.”
The Value of Cultivating a Multigenerational Healthcare Workforce
In today's healthcare environment, maintaining a healthy bottom line is crucial for success. According to a 2014 report on “Managing the Intergenerational
Workforce” by the American Hospital Association, ignoring generational differences may drain dollars from an organization through high employee turnover rates and increased expenditures for recruitment, training and retention. Furthermore, poor clinical outcomes that result from a disconnect in intergenerational communication styles can lead to patient rehospitalizations, increasing the cost of care and possibly triggering financial penalties for not meeting reimbursement criteria.
A carefully cultivated multigenerational workforce can improve employee satisfaction and reduce churn. And, fostering team-building across generationswithin clinical units can improve outcomes, thereby reducing the overall cost of care. Improved intergenerational communication also ensures a smooth transfer of institutional knowledge from older, experienced workers to younger ones, which helps avoid the “brain drain” that can occur when senior employees leave the workforce.
Start With a Workforce Evaluation and Plan
Building an effective multigenerational workforce begins with assessing where your organization currently stands in terms of its generational profile. Evaluating this data enables organizations to develop a plan for recruitment, retention and communication
to and between these various groups. In its report, the AHA suggests every healthcare organization start by:
- Conducting an intergenerational evaluation to determine the organization's workforce profile and developing a comprehensive plan;
- Implementing targeted recruitment, segmented retention and succession planning strategies; and
- Developing tailored communication strategies that cultivate generational sensitivity.
Engage Each Generation at Every Level
After establishing its generational profile, a healthcare organization can begin to develop a comprehensive generational management plan.Cultivating multigenerational engagement requires re-examining every aspect of human resources management to ensure they meet the needs of each generation. Examples include:
- Establishing multiple methods of communication. For instance, Baby Boomers might prefer to receive organization messages by email, while Millennials are often more comfortable with a social media approach.
- Review work hour policies and adjust for flexibility. Give each generation a choice in how they work. Some employees may strongly desire a mandated eight-hour job, while others want flexible scheduling.
- Tailor feedback. Many Millennials want frequent feedback on job performance so they can make immediate, incremental improvements. On the other hand, Baby Boomers and GenX employees may view frequent coaching as disrespectful of their knowledge and experience.
- Tailor rewards programs. Baby Boomers value prestige, which means they may prefer to have their achievements recognized at a ceremony before their peers. GenXers and Millennials may prefer rewards that take the shape of programs to enable work-life balance or career advancement.
- Offer intergenerational staff development. Give employees the opportunity to learn about the generational differences in work styles so they can understand and respect each other's methods.
Disregard Generational Stereotypes
When developing a multigenerational management plan, it can be easy to make assumptions:
- “Baby Boomers are inflexible and can't adapt to new technologies.”
- “GenXers are cynical and will never work a minute of overtime.”
- “Millennials are flighty and self-centered.”
“Much of this is not new,” said Seth Serxner, chief health officer and senior vice president of population health at Optum Prevention Solutions. “It was no different when the Boomers came on the scene. They were viewed as a little bit selfish and not thinking
about the future. Who isn't when they're that age?” To avoid incorporating such negative stereotypes, organizations can develop generational competency. Increase sensitivity and understanding through training as a step toward building a robust multigenerational workforce that eschews stereotyping.
Create High-Performing Teams
When members of each generation understand their differences, they can come together as a cohesive team. For example, if Millennials understand Baby Boomers hew toward a more authoritarian management style, they can respond to this behavior without judging it. Conversely, if Baby Boomer managers understand GenXers need a supportive, encouraging environment to thrive, they can adapt their management behavior to accommodate.
Equally important, multigenerational teams can leverage the strengths of each member. A mature member of the team might be able to use his deep institutional knowledge to develop a highly detailed plan and then rely on the agile thinking of a Millennial member to suggest innovative improvements before going forward. By combining strengths, the team can bring forward the best strategies and solutions for the benefit of the organization.
The multigenerational workforce can have a clearcut benefit in the clinical setting. “The [Millennial] generation often perceives information found on the web to represent wisdom,” said Don Goldmann, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer at the Institute for
Healthcare Improvement. “But these might actually be snap judgments without the benefit of extensive clinical experience. A clinician who has lived and acquired
real wisdom can give the younger colleague input that results in making a better decision.”
Everyone has something to learn from someone else. In the ever-changing healthcare space, when employers facilitate learning, they can collaborate to bring the best qualities of their generation to the task at hand: quality patient care.