Best places for millennials provide a sense of meaning

Younger workers are often drawn to fun workplace cultures, hip offices and cutting-edge technology, according to scores of studies on millennials, and that puts home healthcare and hospice agencies at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting. Yet employers in those sectors are finding ways to attract a younger generation to the challenging work of caring for the sick, elderly and dying.

“Millennials are interested in the new and current; hospices are about death and dying,” says Kaaren Flint, community outreach and education specialist at the Hospice of the Northwest in Washington State. But Flint, who is 32, points to something else that the younger generation values and her workplace provides—a job with meaning and purpose.

“Everyday I get to come to work and educate people on how they can change the stigma around death and dying,” she says. “I can help families in need of support. I feel like I'm doing important work.”

And that's exactly what hospice employees are doing, said communications manager Dana Brothers.

“I cannot think of a field that makes more of an impact on a person and a family's life than hospice care,” she says. “People come to us in a panic and our team gives them the spiritual, social and medical support they need at a difficult time and they are hugely grateful.

Many of the millennials we work with are in administration but some are line staff caring for patients and their families. They know as soon as they walk in the door that they are making a difference.”

Of course, generous healthcare benefits, flexible schedules, and a $5 monthly gym membership at an affiliated hospital, don't hurt, according to Brothers. But she says that what her younger colleagues value more than the benefits is the sense of independence that the hospice fosters.

“We provide an environment where you don't sit and do the same thing every day,” she said. “Millennials like to step out of their comfort zone, and this field, this career, this team allow that to happen.”

As baby boomers age and the demand for hospice and home healthcare workers grows, attracting new talent to a field with a shortage of qualified workers and high turnover rates will be become more urgent in the coming years.

About 20% of the hospice's 56 employees are under age 35, according to Brothers—a number that she says is unusually high for this line of work.

Perhaps few employers understand the vital role that millennials will play in the future of hospice and home healthcare than Maria Nam, a 33-year-old registered nurse and founder of Advantage Home Health Services in North Canton, Ohio.

She was just 23 when she started the home health service company in 2008.

“It's an autonomous environment here and you need to think on your feet,” she said. “You're out there alone at patients' homes. If there's a problem, you can't hit the code button on the wall for help.”

About 60% of the agency's 100 nurses, physical therapists, social workers and home health aides are millennials. Good mentoring is one reason that Advantage has been so successful at preparing staffers for the demands of the job, she says.

“We just hired a physical therapist who recently graduated from college,” says Nam. “Our director of rehab was wary about hiring a new grad, but then took it upon herself to teach and guide him.”

Another factor in attracting younger workers is the company's early adoption of electronic health records, 
iPhones, iPads and Skype and other tech tools that encourage caregivers to collaborate, according to Brian Nam, the company's president and chief operating officer and Maria's husband.

Given that the average age of all working nurses is 50, according to the American Nurses Association, and the average age of physical therapists is 40, Brian Nam said he is pleased to see so many young clinicians working alongside veteran home health professionals.

But it's not all work at Advantage. The Nams are big fans of '90s music, so when they heard that an “I Love the '90s Show” was coming to nearby Cleveland this fall, they planned a “ '90s dress” contest to give away tickets. They're also fond of Carpool Karaoke contests, which ask employees to name the first five songs sung by James Corden and his guest on the “Late, Late Show With James Corden.”

At MedKoder, in Mandeville, La., the Crescent City is 45 minutes away but the medical coding services firm tries to keep the Mardi Gras spirit alive for its 75 employees with celebrations for holidays, milestones, New Orleans Saints victories and of course, Mardi Gras. A work-hard, play-hard ethos is one reason that 30% of its workforce are millennials, according to Wendy Lorenz, senior human resources generalist at MedKoder.

Given that MedKoder is a tech firm, attracting younger workers isn't as challenging as it is for other employers, but creating a workplace that gives them a sense of independence is important in keeping them.

“There's a lot of trust and autonomy and initiative and respect for individuals,” she said. “I can't say that our recruiting strategy focuses on millennials specifically, but we attract them because of who we are.”

Rita Pyrillis is a freelancer in Chicago.



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