Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Leading a Multigenerational Workforce: Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Millennials

Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Leading a Multigenerational Workforce: Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Millennials

Article excerpt


Over the past several years, leaders in healthcare have noticed an increase in generational tension among employees, most often focused on the attitudes and behaviors of the arriving millennials (generation Y). While these employee relations issues were a nuisance, they rarely rose to the level of a priority demanding leadership intervention. Some leaders, in fact, hoped that the issues would resolve themselves as these young employees settled in and learned that they had to demonstrate new behaviors to be successful in the workplace. Most organizations adopted this wait-and-see attitude.

Not so today. As the boomer generation has begun its exodus from the workplace, organizations are increasingly looking at the millennials as not a problem but a solution to the workplace manpower transition that is under way. Our problem is that we don't yet know how best to lead such a diverse, multigenerational workforce.

This article examines the generational topic and provides advice concerning a variety of changes that leaders may implement to advance their organization's ability to attract and to retain the millennials.


In Good to Great (2001), Collins reports that leaders who take their companies from good to great first pay attention to who is on their bus, who is working in their organization. Have you noticed that the people on your bus are changing? We are referring to the retirement of the baby boomer generation while increasing numbers of millennials (generation Y) - those in their twenties - are arriving in the workplace.

For the past several years, we have been studying generational issues in the healthcare workplace. What we have found is that while leaders are aware that the boomers are approaching retirement and may have been advised of tensions among employees resulting from generational differences, most leaders have made generational issues a low priority.

This is understandable given the many pressing demands on leaders of healthcare organizations during the past decade. However, we also found that this lack of attention to generational tensions was deliberate in some cases. We heard senior healthcare leaders express the opinion that these tensions would naturally resolve themselves as millennials matured and realized that they had to change their behaviors if they wanted to be successful in their jobs. "After all," those leaders argued, "weren't we like that too? And we learned."

Unfortunately, the evidence so far does not support this wait-and-see approach concerning generational tensions. The millennial employees grew up with very different family, school, and environmental influences compared with today's senior healthcare leaders. For example, if you are one of those older leaders, did you ever get a trophy for just showing up to play or to participate in an activity as a child? Our millennial employees did. Is it any wonder that they arrive at our workplaces with high expectations for positive feedback? Early life experiences contribute to generational differences that are deeply imprinted in individuals' beliefs, values, preferences, and behaviors and are not easily changed.

During the last decade, consulting organizations, professional and industry associations, and the academic community published reports that drew our attention to the issue of generations in the workplace. The Society for Human Resource Management published Generational Differences: Survey Report (Burke 2004), in which they presented the results of a survey that explored what human resource professionals observed as advantages and disadvantages of an intergenerational workforce. Deloitte Development LLC published Decoding Generational Differences (Smith 2008), a report of several years of research on the topic. Pew Research produced Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next (Taylor and Keeter 2010) to compare the values, attitudes, and behaviors of millennials with those of older adults. …

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