Attracting Millennials to the nursing unit

Within a very few short years, Millennials will make up a majority of the workforce, and that percentage will continue to grow for at least another decade as the generation fully comes into its own.

Already, Millennials have eclipsed Baby Boomers in numbers, according to the Pew Research Center, though many have not yet entered the workforce. As of 2015, there were 75.4 million Millennials, compared to 74.9 million Baby Boomers. The Millennial generation is being augmented by young immigrants expanding its ranks.

The generational impact may be particularly acute in healthcare, since surveys show that Millennials have a very strong interest in working in this field. Millennials like to “make a difference” in the work that they do, and what better place to do that than in the healthcare industry?

Since nurses are the backbone of the industry, and have direct influence on patient wellbeing through bedside care, it stands to reason that nursing could be very attractive to Millennials. After all, if you want to make a difference and to help people, nursing could be the best occupation you can find.

Millennials in healthcare will ask for a few things from their employers. And, since this generation is smaller in size than Baby Boomers – and therefore fewer in numbers to fill the growing patient demand for services – it might behoove employers to consider what Millennial nurses may want.

A 2016 Deloitte Millennial survey found that Millennials’ top workplace issues include:

• Putting employees first (though in healthcare, that would necessarily come after the patients)
• A solid foundation of trust and integrity
• Excellence in customer care
• High-quality, reliable services
• Social responsibility

A Millennial survey by the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation found workplace preferences such as:

• A multicultural environment
• Utilization of cutting-edge technology
• Making a difference in the world and in the community

An article in Healthcare Financial Management Association, or HFMA, entitled “Leadership Strategies: Harness Strength of Multigenerational Workforce to Improve Healthcare,” urged managing to the styles of each generation, rather than relying on a set of skills developed for a homogenous cohort. Suggested strategies included:

Be open-minded. Expect different style, dress, communication, and many other personal aspects, and don’t allow differences to obscure a clinical manager’s view of a team member. Managers need to check their biases at the door.

Seek input. Top-down management may not work with Millennials. Uniform and rigid policies and procedures could harm team engagement. Management needs to ask nurses what they think – and shouldn’t be afraid of flexibility and choice.

Provide coaching. Constructive management should be employed instead of punitive or even performance-mandated supervision. Millennial nurses might be much more sensitive to perceived criticism or negative feedback. Coaching and coachable conversations may be a much more successful tactic.

Reverse the mentoring. Managers can learn from multigenerational team members about their strengths, which can then be nourished for the benefit of the team. As an example, the technology-related skills of Millennial nurses can be of tremendous benefit to the care environment. Older generation team members can learn a lot from younger generation nurses.

Be flexible. It’s often said that flexibility is a must in managing Millennials – in any industry. But it’s actually a benefit in managing anybody. Work-life balance would be appreciated by nurses of any age. The preferences of each generation and each individual in the workplace should be recognized. All people like it when their personal lifestyle needs are respected.

Other studies of Millennial preferences in the workplace focused on more nuts-and-bolts job issues that could be very important to healthcare providers trying to hire and retain nurses. For example, flexibility in work hours is very important, perhaps even more than salary and benefits to many Millennials. Healthy work-life balance is much more valued to Millennials than to past generations, which underlies the emphasis on flexibility in work schedules.

Another vital aspect is a good workplace environment, one that is friendly and collegial. A cooperative spirit is much more valued than a competitive one, which could be a very positive trend in healthcare considering the shift to value-based health services with their emphasis on team-based care. Millennials also expect to develop their skills in the workplace in order to advance their careers, so training and mentoring opportunities may be very important. That’s another plus for healthcare, considering the mandate for continuing education.

The key to attracting and retaining Millennial workers seems to be more than just offering a series of enticements but in creating a workplace that workers value – for much more than salary and benefits. A recent message from Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Global, in the Deloitte Millennial Survey, sums it up: “The message is clear: when looking at their career goals, today’s Millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and its contribution to society as they are in its products and profits.”

It seems to me that nursing already has all the key ingredients to be a very desirable occupation for the generation of Millennials.

However, nursing leaders are rightly warned against putting too much stock in descriptions of Millennials’ likes and dislikes by the 2015 article, “Embracing the Multigenerational Nursing Team,” in MedSurge Nursing. The author states that clinical managers “...should not stereotype individuals and should realize each person has his or her personality. Individual life experiences and characteristics also combine to create a unique being.” Respect, communication and cultivating the strengths of each individual may be the best strategy for bolstering the productivity and effectiveness of a multigenerational nursing team.

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