4 Suggestions for Hospitals to Manage an Intergenerational Workforce

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Four generations are currently working in the U.S. — the first time this has occurred in our nation's modern history, according to the American Hospital Association. Traditionalists (born before 1945), baby boomers (1946-1964), generation X'ers (1965-1980) and millennials are all working side by side, though some groups are smaller than others (5 percent or less of traditionalists are in the workforce today, for example).

Some employers may see the mix of generations in the workplace as a negative, since workers from different generations have different values, beliefs and workplace expectations. But for an industry going though as much change as healthcare, a generational mix in the workplace can prove beneficial, according to a report from the AHA, "Managing an Intergenerational Workforce: Strategies for Health Care Transformation."

"An intergenerational workforce can provide steady and able employee capital, optimal operational performance, financial solvency and excellent patient care, despite labor shortages and rising healthcare costs," the report states.

The report offers several interventions for hospital leaders who want to strengthen collaboration among intergenerational employees. Detailed here are four strategies hospital leaders can use specifically in terms of establishing generational management practices.

Customize management styles. Each generation prefers its own type of communication and leadership styles, so there is not one silver bullet when it comes to communicating with employees of different ages. However, there is one management style all four generations can agree on: flexible work hours. When asked to rank their preferred work hour options, all four generations chose the "freedom to set own hours if the work gets done," according to the AHA.

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls took advantage of this crowd-pleaser for its nurses. The system implemented a version of flexible work hours, the report said, allowing nurses to self-schedule for four-, eight- or 12-hour shifts with different time off between. This allows nurses from different generations to choose their ideal schedule. The hospital found baby boomers prefer shorter shifts while millennials and generation X'ers prefer the 12-hour shifts, for example.

Leverage employees' strengths. Different generations tend to have varied personal and professional strengths. The AHA report mentioned younger generations may be better with technology, but the older two generations most likely have a large network of friends and former colleagues to tap into.

One way hospitals can play to all of its employees' strengths is by holding events where employees can suggest new ideas to improve the organization. That way, all voices are heard, and leaders can get new, innovative input from a multigenerational group, the report suggests.
Tailor recognition and awards. Employees from separate generations have different wants and needs when it comes to motivation and recognition. Millennials are looking for career development, for example, while baby boomers crave prestige and name recognition, according to the AHA report. To please all generations, hospitals should provide various opportunities for employee recognition.

The AHA report highlights Arlington-based Texas Health Resources as an example of a health system with varied employee awards. The system awards employees for everything from performance to retirement, and awards vary from simple thank-you cards to money, ensuring the wants of all generations are represented.

Encourage collaboration. Since different generations tend to view the world and the workplace differently, much can be gained from having workers from different generations interact with and learn from one another.

To achieve collaboration between generations, Beaumont Health System in Troy, Mich., holds a course called "Generation Sensation." The AHA report describes the event as "a safe space for open dialogue to discuss generational differences in the workplace, whether real or perceived." The course is designed to build and improve teamwork and communication.

These are just four of the many suggestions the AHA offers for hospitals to better manage and engage with their multigenerational employees, but each is a step in the right direction for organizations seeking to make the most this unique time in healthcare and the American workplace.

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