Achieving Balance in a Multigenerational Workforce
Walk the halls of any hospital and you’re sure to see staff from multiple generations – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials working together. Doctors and nurses later in their career retire and younger generations enter the field in a constant process of workforce renewal. For the first time in modern U.S. history, there will be four generations present in the workforce – Traditionalists (born before 1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Gen X (born 1965-1980) and Millennials/Generation Y (born after 1980).
Hospital leaders are tasked with keeping these disparate generations engaged and collaborating while maximizing knowledge transfer and minimizing burnout. This endeavor is complicated by the fact that generations can have fundamentally different values, communication styles and approaches to their interactions with patients and colleagues. But mastering how to manage staff across generations is critical because it can impact retention, engagement and, perhaps most importantly, patient safety and outcomes.
Burnout and retention, generationally
Physician and nurse burnout is well documented. For nurses, the burnout rate is soaring, up to 63% according to a national survey of hospital nurses. For physicians, the 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report by MedScape, which surveyed 15,000 doctors across 29 specialties, 44% feel burned out. When healthcare workers feel burnt out, they are more likely to leave the profession. For nurses, especially new nurses, turnover rates can be especially high. One study showed that 43% of newly licensed hospital nurses leave their jobs within three years.
This can have an impact on patient safety and staff education. According to one study examining the impact of nurse turnover on patient outcomes, nursing units with moderate turnover had lower levels of workgroup learning than those without any turnover, and units with lower turnover had fewer adverse incidences such as patient falls. It can also impact training, as turnover is frequently accompanied by a need to revisit policies such as proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment and central line changes to make sure they’re being adhered to for patient safety.
Within a multigenerational workforce, it’s important to note that each person may experience burnout in different ways and respond to solutions differently. For example, a Press Ganey report looking at resilience in nurses across generations found that Millennials have the lowest level of engagement with work, while nurse managers, who are typically from older generations, are more engaged at work but found it harder to decompress from their jobs outside of work hours. Therefore, Millennials may respond better to engagement programs that recognize their efforts, while nurse managers may be more appreciative of a concerted focus on work/life balance.
Paying attention to this kind of research will allow hospital leaders to tailor their approaches to create the highest-performing, most engaged team possible, which translates to better attitudes and, ultimately, can lead to better, safer patient care.
Effectively managing a multigenerational workforce
It’s not always easy to collaborate with co-workers from other generations, and this can be a pain point for employers. A Lee Hecht Harrison survey showed more than 60% of employers experience intergenerational tension. But those differences may actually present an opportunity for hospital leaders to benefit from the diverse outlooks and approaches of their work force, such as knowledge sharing between the groups. The American Hospital Association suggests taking some initial steps, including:
- Know your staff’s profile: Conduct an initial intergenerational evaluation to determine how your staff is split between the generations. This will allow you to approach a plan informed.
- Be strategic in your efforts: Keeping in mind that each generation has different needs and will respond to different stimuli, develop a targeted recruitment approach, segment your retention efforts and succession plan strategies.
- Communicate effectively: Tailor your communications in a way that conveys generational understanding, explains the strengths brought by each group and promotes sensitivity.
- Encourage collaboration and offer intergenerational training: Though it will take effort, creating professional situations where employees from different generations can work closer together, and impart knowledge to one another, will help to solidify the local culture and can make for more engaged employees.
The big picture
Paying attention to the subtleties of having a multigenerational workforce and succeeding at maximizing integration, collaboration and engagement is important no matter the industry. But in healthcare, it is increasingly important as the industry shifts to more patient-centric, value-based care models, and as the dynamics of the workforce shift. Getting a head start on it can help position a healthcare system—and the staff providing patient care within its walls—for future success.