The healthcare workforce has grown with the addition of a new group of physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, administrators, and support staff who belong to America's youngest generation now in the workforce - generation Y, or the millennials. This generation consists of more than 70 million people, the oldest of whom are now in their late 20s and early 30s. With traits and workplace expectations that differ from those observed in other generations, and with a size that threatens to overtake the total number of baby boomers, generation Yers are positioned to influence (if not drastically change) current leadership approaches.
The common traits that define or are associated with generation Y workers are often regarded as barriers yet provide healthcare leaders with a clear guide to understanding these employees and drawing out their best qualities and performance. For the organization to fulfill its social contract to provide high-quality, cost-effective, and safe healthcare, it must satisfy the needs and manage the expectations of those who directly deliver these services. This is especially important in today's environment, which is marked by the still-fluid stipulations of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), changed consumer expectations, and public demands for transparency and accountability.
The beginning of the twenty-first century ushered in the first wave of generation Y workers. These workers joined an already multigenerational US workforce in all industries, including healthcare, and brought new challenges and opportunities to employers. Today, approximately 20 percent of the healthcare workforce - including physicians, nurses, allied health, technicians, and clerical staff- are generation Yers (Herzberg and Madden 2010; Sharpe, Haynes, and McDivitt 2012). As more members of generation Y mature and enter the employment market and as more baby boomers retire, employers will need to examine and then adjust their approaches to leading, managing, hiring, retaining, and training this new talent pool. They must develop practical, sustainable strategies and view generation Y as critical to achieving the organization's goals and as future champions of the organization's mission and vision. To do all this effectively, leaders (including senior management, the medical staff chief, and the board) must first get to know this young group.
UNDERSTANDING GENERATION Y
In order to effectively work with someone, it helps to know where that person is coming from. This is an imperative for all healthcare leaders, as they will inevitably work with and guide the generation Y population.
Born between 1980 and 1999, members of generation Y are also referred to as millennials, generation next, echo boomers, and trophy kids. This generation is more than 70 million strong and follows generation X (born between 1965 and 1979), baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), and veterans, also called the silent generation (born between 1920 and 1945) (Alsop 2008). (Note that these numbers and date ranges are not exact and differ slightly across reports, but they cover the overall era of each generation.)
Generation Y shares some similarities with previous generations:
* Generation Yers, generation Xers, and baby boomers all desire "respect, flexibility, fairness and the opportunity to do interesting and rewarding work" (Watt 2010).
* Members of generations X and Y are technologically adept and even techreliant. They prefer e-mail, text, instant messaging, and short-form electronic methods to prolonged, face-to-face meetings or contact. Both groups also seek work-life balance to serve both their professional and personal interests.
* Generation Yers and veterans came of age and/or entered the workforce under severe global economic and political turmoil. Veterans felt the effects of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust. Generation Y witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, wars in the Middle East, the Great Recession, the Arab Spring, the ouster or death of dictators, and failed austerity measures in Europe. …