5 ways to design for an intergenerational healthcare workforce

The American Hospital Association reports that more than 60 percent of employers are experiencing tension between employees from different generations.

This is a pretty startling statistic, especially in light of the healthcare industry's ongoing talent war and tight labor market. More than ever, attracting and retaining a happy workforce is paramount to a healthcare system's success.

Here's five strategies from CannonDesign focused on creating harmony among the generational mashup found in today's healthcare workforce.

1. Encourage cross-generational partnerships
Despite the contrasts between generations and how they work and interact with others, successful teaming models have emerged that intentionally partner individuals of differing generations, harnessing the strengths and limitations of each. In addition to formal partnership models, informal relationships can be created by designing spaces that naturally bring employees together, such as shared support zones, outdoor staff areas, cafes or gyms. These communal spaces have the inherent ability to spark conversation among employees and foster serendipitous interactions.

2. Offer variety via flexibility
Rather than providing one workspace option and asking employees to conform to that option, provide flexible options that can adjust based on work and generation type. These options should be agile enough to be reconfigured to best suit preferences across the spectrum of work types: concentration, collaboration, socialization and education.

3. Focus on similarities rather than differences
Although providing multiple workspace options for multiple work styles sounds ideal, doing so is not always possible or reasonable. Instead, health systems can focus on workplace themes that employees value across generations: access to natural light and views, work areas that properly address ergonomics, and a workplace that creates a sense of community, to name a few.

4. Respect your elders
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the average nurses' age is 47. The American Nurses Association goes onto report that the largest age group of employed RNs falls in the range of 50-54. Further, in response to a shortage of healthcare workers, many health systems are trying to retain their workforce well beyond retirement age. The physical limitations that come with the baby boomer+ age group require a workplace that is responsive through proper ergonomics, supportive seating, safe patient handling and limited travel distances.

5. Co-create with employees
The only way to create a space that facilitates shared prosperity for an intergenerational workforce is to include an age-diverse group of employees in the design and planning process. Beyond simply holding an occasional user-group meeting, it's important to "co-create" with this group, meaning that employees should work alongside designers to develop and test solutions until an ideal state is realized. Doing this makes certain the final solution is grounded in actual, cross-generational employee needs.


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