How 3 health systems bridge workforce generations

Amid a changing work landscape, health systems must adjust recruiting and retention practices to ensure they meet employee needs and expectations across generations. This is particularly true as more older healthcare workers have retired or plan to retire, and as younger generations such as millennials and Generation Z make up large portions of their workforces.  

From job shadowing to new culture commitments, here is how three health systems interviewed by Becker's are accommodating different generations.

Christ Hospital

The Christ Hospital Health Network, a Cincinnati-based health system, has about 6,500 employees. Traditionalists — those born between 1925 and 1945 — make up about 1 percent of the health system's workforce. Gen Z is the next smallest segment (14 percent), followed by baby boomers (16.9 percent), Generation X (27 percent) and millennials (42 percent). 

Considering the generational makeup of the workforce, the health system has proactively focused on meeting changing expectations associated with different generations, according to Corey Heller, chief human resource and people officer.

"For us to continue to be a preeminent employer of choice, we're going to have to provide a truly extraordinary work experience that would be meaningful to multiple generations in the workforce," Mr. Heller told Becker's

To help meet generational expectations, the health system uses MaxDiff and conjoint analyses to identify attributes that are most valuable to specific workforce segments, particularly younger workers. Mr. Heller said this means getting employee feedback and answering questions like: How can the organization make its culture and values more meaningful and resonate with younger employees? What is the organization doing in terms of corporate social responsibility in our environmental, social and governance platform? What is the organization doing in terms of environmental sustainability?

"All of our strategies around people are really focused on delivering an extraordinary value proposition very similar to what we do for our patient value proposition," Mr. Heller said.

The Christ Hospital Health Network also has an advisory group in which employees discuss the most meaningful aspects of the health system's policies and procedures and practices. Additionally, the group discusses how the health system should continue to evolve those policies and procedures and practices to boost recruitment and retention efforts.

Group members "are generally individual contributors," Mr. Heller explained. "These are folks who are very outspoken. They're opinionated. They have ideas and thoughts, and they're courageous in terms of expressing them. We really focus in on having a tremendous amount of diversity on our teams that represent the broader workforce in the community in which we support. We encourage people to demonstrate their commitment to diversity of thought and expression as well as be part of the team member advisory group."

Mr. Heller also said the Christ Hospital Health Network is focused on creating nontraditional growth opportunities for employees. Those opportunities may include job shadowing or opportunities to work on experiential action learning projects, where the employee is exposed to other departments within the organization. 

"We're taking advantage of the intellectual curiosity that our team members have expressed as being a critical component to their value proposition," Mr. Heller said. "So, we're really looking at ways of continuing to create meaningful and challenging opportunities within the organization to provide that extraordinary experience for our patients."

Overall, he said, "developing that compelling reason why people should stay is really about customizing that experience, and helping employees achieve their long-term career aspirations within this organization. [This] is a paramount responsibility of not just HR, but all leaders."

Mr. Heller also said it's important in meeting generational expectations to have a self-scheduling model that allows employees to have more balance and flexibility between their work and leisure time.

"Giving people choice as to where they work, when they work and how they work, I think is a key element to being able to attract and retain top talent," he said. 

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare 

At Memphis, Tenn.-based Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, millennials, also known as Generation Y, represent about 44 percent of the health system's current workforce, followed by Gen X at 43 percent. Baby boomers and Gen Z make up about 10 percent and 1 percent of the organization's workforce, respectively. Since 2019, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has experienced increased growth of Gen Z and Gen Y employees, while recruitment remains steady for Gen X and baby boomers.

To accommodate this generational shift, the health system offers benefits "that meet people where they are, whether that [is] being brand new to the workforce, or if they're close to retirement," said Sarah Colley, senior vice president and chief human resources officer. "We want things that everyone can feel good about that represent their stage in life."

The health system offers traditional retirement programs. However, Ms. Colley said it also added other benefits, such as backup care for children or older family members of employees. 

Additionally, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare offers an MLH Associate Advancement Program, through a partnership with the University of Memphis, to provide employees with opportunities to earn higher education degrees and certificates to advance their careers. 

"We graduated a group in June. That was a lot of surgical techs, some radiology techs and then some people with their bachelor's degree. And it spans across different generations. It wasn't just younger generations taking advantage of the program," said Ms. Colley.

Ms. Colley also said the health system has used social media more to help with recruitment as many potential job candidates spend free time on social media.

She said the organization also emphasizes to younger workers "that they can have a full career with us. They could come in a potential entry-level position. And we can help pay for them to go back to school or take advantage of the MLH Associate Advancement Program and have different phases of their career within our health system."

Additionally, this summer Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare sponsored a science, technology, engineering and mathematics teacher who teaches in a high school near one of the health system's hospitals. Ms. Colley said the teacher spent eight days with the system doing an externship to learn about different careers the health system has from a STEM perspective. 

"Many of her students know about being a doctor or a nurse. They don't know about being a med tech or a radiology tech. And so, we spent time educating her so that she can educate the workforce of tomorrow," Ms. Colley said. 

Still, she acknowledged the challenges different generations present when it comes to nabbing talent. One of the largest she mentioned was communication with various generations.

She said, "Everyone likes to be communicated with in a different way. And then ensuring that we do have that flexibility that people are looking for, for whatever stage of life, whether they have a new baby at home, or whether they're close to retirement or starting working, whatever that is, we want to help meet them where they are so that they can have a successful career, regardless of what generation they're in, or what stage of life they are in." 

Atrium Health

At Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health, Gen Z makes up about 19 percent of the health system's 73,000-person workforce. Gen Y makes up 30.7 percent; Gen X makes up 35.5 percent; and baby boomers make up about 15 percent.  

Given the emotional and physical toll the pandemic has taken on all these healthcare workers, the health system decided to reevaluate its retention and recruitment practices, based on employee feedback about the culture of the organization, according to Jim Dunn, PhD, enterprise executive vice president and chief people and culture officer. 

"We thought it was a perfect time for us to do something exciting and provide a measure of hope, if you will, and have people focus on our culture, what sets us aside from any other competitor," Dr. Dunn said. 

Atrium Health then conducted an employee survey asking: What is it that you love about working with Atrium Health? What are some opportunities for improvement with Atrium Health?

This resulted in a new set of culture commitments for the enterprise. 

"The first one is we create a space where all belong, and that is so important for me as a CHRO because that is meeting whoever you are, wherever you are, bringing your whole self to work. We don't want you not being yourself at work," Dr. Dunn said. "We also created a new commitment of working as one team to make great things happen, which is particularly important with both our in-person and remote work recruitment and retention efforts." 

Another culture commitment: "We earn trust in all we do." 

"That's basically a sole, virtuous intent," Dr. Dunn said. "When working with each other, we're all stressed. You don't know each other's stressors. Just assume that everyone's doing the best they can.

"At the same time, we're growing, we're integrating, we're becoming a larger organization. And so, we innovate to better the now and create the future. That gets people excited. And then, of course, our clinical excellence. We drive for that in all things we do."

Dr. Dunn said different generations wanted to do different things to celebrate those culture commitments. For example, younger workers convinced him to make a TikTok-style video related to the culture commitments — something he had never done. 

"Our teammates requested that I do it, so I went ahead and looked like a fool and did a TikTok video and let it go viral," said Dr. Dunn, who is part of Gen X. "It’s something that I don't think my generation would have requested. It was so much fun for me to do."

Atrium Health also changed its onboarding process. 

"Prior to the pandemic, we would onboard about 150 to 200 teammates, in person, each week. And I loved that because, every Monday morning, another leader or I, we would welcome them; we would do exercises together, we would tell them about our culture. It was great, and they walked away feeling really connected," Dr. Dunn said. "Well, with the pandemic, we didn't have that. And so, we had to learn how to keep teammates of all generations — but particularly the younger generations — engaged, and some creative ways on how to onboard them; how to connect to their leaders; how to feel that they're part of a team that, in some cases, they're just getting the meet [in person] now — two years later."

When it comes to baby boomers, he said Atrium Health tends to promote opportunities to work part time or on an as-needed basis "because we know where their head's at. And they're getting closer to retirement age. And if they were not thinking about it before the pandemic, they sure are thinking about it now."

With Gen Xers, "we want to promote growth and opportunity as well as clinical matters," Dr. Dunn said. "And for millennials and Gen Z, we promote work culture, our culture commitments and a fun, meaningful work environment.

"We've drawn so many different tactics that we stratified by generation. But we're beginning to see that if it's engaging for one generation, it's becoming engaging for the entire workforce."

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